Politi­cians pull words from a hat and end up with a hot po­tato

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OPINION - Den­nis Pather

IT’S OF­TEN said that politi­cians are mas­ters of the art of speak­ing with­out say­ing any­thing of im­por­tance.

To be good at your job cer­tain skills are cru­cial – like mak­ing prom­ises you know you can’t keep; skirt­ing is­sues you sus­pect are too hot to han­dle; in­sert­ing your own agen­das when no one’s look­ing; and be­ing flu­ent in the lan­guage of gob­bledy­gook.

And all of this has to be accomplished with a straight face.

Which got me think­ing about whether our politi­cians are aware of the ori­gins of many of the words and phrases they throw around like con­fetti in public.

Let’s start with those politi­cians given to ir­ra­tional and some­times vi­o­lent be­hav­iour – or go­ing berserk, as they say.

The word ac­tu­ally comes from the old Vik­ing days, when sav­age men ran amok wear­ing noth­ing but bear skins (bjorn sekr). Sorry, I didn’t see any ref­er­ence to red berets.

You of­ten hear peo­ple say­ing some politi­cians talk a lot of clap­trap, but did you know that in the old days some the­atres ac­tu­ally em­ployed peo­ple to bribe au­di­ences to ap­plaud even in the worst of pro­duc­tions – a strat­egy that was re­ferred to as clap­trap?

What about op­por­tunis­tic politi­cians who get into po­si­tions of power sim­ply by “jump­ing on the band­wagon”? Well, it might in­ter­est you to know that in the days be­fore mass me­dia in the US, can­di­dates drummed up sup­port by parad­ing through the streets on a wagon with a small band, prompt­ing some lo­cals to jump on to show their sup­port. Sounds fa­mil­iar, doesn’t it?

“Slush funds” are dirty words in pol­i­tics but where did the term orig­i­nate?

In the old sail­ing days, the fat from boil­ing down meat brought on board from the last port was stored by the ship’s cook. The fat was known as slush, which the cook and the purser qui­etly shared and used to bribe peo­ple. Mmmmm!

When po­lit­i­cal par­ties dis­agree, they are said to be at log­ger­heads. It now turns out that in old handto-hand bat­tles at sea a favourite weapon was a heavy ball of iron at­tached to a chain and a long han­dle called log­ger­heads. To con­clude, what about two words politi­cians have ex­treme dif­fi­culty telling the dif­fer­ence be­tween – truth and lies.

Well, an old fa­ble has it that Truth and False­hood went for a swim, leav­ing their clothes on shore. False­hood came out of the wa­ter first and put on Truth’s clothes.

Truth, re­fus­ing to don the clothes of False­hood, went naked. Hence the ex­pres­sion, the naked truth.

On a point of or­der, Madam Speaker, but surely it’s un­par­lia­men­tary to talk about such things as nu­dity in this House?

Ac­knowl­edge­ments to Noel P Crighton for his book Why Do We Say That? – An Ex­er­cise in Ety­mol­ogy.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.