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