Agromenes

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

COUN­TRY peo­ple grow used to the in­abil­ity of some towns­folk to face the re­al­i­ties of life. They talk of ma­nure— or even FYM (Farm­yard Ma­nure)— in­stead of some­thing earth­ier and they’ve seen to it that butch­ers no longer dis­play recog­nis­able car­casses, but present meat as if it had noth­ing to do with an an­i­mal. Choose a word care­fully and you know that you can change the at­mos­phere or even the out­come of a de­bate.

Marx (The­atre, page 140) and his fol­low­ers were among the first to recog­nise that cap­tur­ing the lan­guage is a big step to­wards win­ning the ar­gu­ment. If you call gas pumped out of the North Sea ‘nat­u­ral gas’, you’re well on the way to pub­lic ac­cep­tance. Call ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied toma­toes ‘Franken­stein foods’ and you’ll get them off the shelves in no time at all. In this way, much of an ar­gu­ment is al­ready con­cluded; it’s a sort of spo­ken ver­sion of pre­dic­tive text.

When the Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices Au­thor­ity wanted to im­prove the way that con­sumers were treated, they pub­lished a code called ‘Treat­ing Cus­tomers Fairly’. The phrase was de­signed to sug­gest that any­one who ar­gued that the code was de­fi­cient ac­tu­ally wanted to treat cus­tomers un­fairly.

A sim­i­lar pro­ce­dure was fol­lowed in es­tab­lish­ing the Govern­ment’s Cli­mate Change Levy. Badly for­mu­lated, ran­dom in its ef­fects and com­plex in its work­ings, there were plenty of rea­sons for ask­ing for re­vi­sion. All such ar­gu­ments were an­swered by point­ing to the ti­tle and sug­gest­ing that, deep down, crit­ics wanted to avoid fight­ing cli­mate change!

The Govern­ment tried the same trick in nam­ing its Brexit Bill ‘The Great Re­peal Bill’, which would have given it the sta­tus of a great re­form­ing act. The lie was in the lan­guage. It was very late in the day when min­is­ters were fi­nally per­suaded that par­lia­men­tary rules might mean that such a ti­tle would re­strict its con­tent and make it un­work- able. Only then was it prop­erly named the EU With­drawal Bill—much more ac­cu­rate, but far less im­me­di­ately ap­peal­ing.

This pre­dic­tive use of lan­guage has spread, is spread­ing and ought to be sup­pressed. When the Chief Con­sta­ble of Wilt­shire wanted to avoid crit­i­cism of his force in pur­su­ing the un­founded al­le­ga­tions against Ted Heath, he re­ferred to the com­plainants as ‘vic­tims’, thus ap­pear­ing to pre­judge the case from the first. Even the most bi­ased of news­pa­pers would have used the phrase ‘al­leged vic­tims’, but that, of course, would not have given the same im­pres­sion.

Load­ing the lan­guage is al­most al­ways an ex­er­cise in po­si­tion­ing. In an­nounc­ing the lon­gawaited pub­li­ca­tion of the re­port on deaths in po­lice cus­tody, the min­is­ter in the House of Lords con­sis­tently talked of rel­a­tives as their ‘loved ones’. This was to make an un­founded and sen­ti­men­tal as­sump­tion. Many who are in trou­ble with the po­lice are in that si­t­u­a­tion pre­cisely be­cause they are not loved. How­ever, she wasn’t re­ally talk­ing about them, but about her­self and her col­leagues—im­put­ing her con­cerned at­ti­tudes onto the rel­a­tives thus en­sured a bet­ter hear­ing for her an­nounce­ment.

Phrase it cor­rectly and you can al­ter per­cep­tion. Ev­ery ac­tion from touch­ing a per­son’s knee all the way to rape is de­scribed as ‘in­ap­pro­pri­ate’ —never bad or wrong. It makes val­ues sub­jec­tive and able to be ma­nip­u­lated. ‘Quan­ti­ta­tive eas­ing’ lets you get away with print­ing money; ‘mis­s­peak­ing’ is bet­ter than ly­ing.

Lan­guage al­ters at­ti­tudes: fore­name in­stead of Chris­tian name; part­ner rather than spouse; elitism for ex­cel­lence. Peo­ple have changed the world by what they say, but also by the words they choose. We must teach our chil­dren not to be ma­nip­u­lated by pre­dic­tive lan­guage.

‘Load­ing the lan­guage is al­most al­ways an ex­er­cise in po­si­tion­ing

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