David Cameron’s visit to the United States to see Barack Obama has brought the phrase “special relationship” back into the daily news agenda.
It has never actually left since first being coined by Winston Churchill in 1946 to describe the Anglo-US connection, but as it enjoys one of its weeks in the sun, the question inevitably comes up over whether the term is still valid.
The two leaders seem to have been quite keen not to utter the exact phrase, though they did use the words in a different order in a joint article in The Washington Post. Instead, phrases such as “essential relationship” and “rock solid alliance” have been used in speeches instead.
So are we going to witness the birth of a new phrase, a linguistic reimagining of The Special Relationship for the 21st century? In short, I think not. Frankly, so long as relations between the UK and US remain strong, I am not sure that there is a phrase which does the job better. “Special Relationship” captures both strength, affection and the importance each country places on each other in a way that “rock solid alliance” simply doesn’t.
But my feelings about the phrase are jaundiced in a way that may just be limited to me and my wife (hereafter Dr Wordability). Like all married couples, there are certain words and phrases which we use between ourselves which mean little to anybody else.
If we find somebody odd, peculiar in any way or annoying in some respect, we describe them as “special”. We didn’t actually make this up. Again, like many personal linguistic habits, this is derived from television and an episode of Frasier called The Dinner Party. With Frasier and Niles suffering torment as their carefully planned dinner party slowly unravels, Frasier asks his father Martin, “Dad, do you think we’re odd.”
After a pause, Martin replies: “No, you’re not odd. You’re just special.” (You can watch the moment on this clip, it comes at three minutes 50:)
So armed with this, what do you think of the phrase “The Special Relationship” now? If either leader describes the other as “Special”, do they mean it in the context of more than 70 years of cordiality? Or have they just been watching a sitcom?