Tag Archives: david_cameron

Are Empty Podiums Here To Stay?

Amid the hullabaloo over whether David Cameron will be prepared to debate against his political rivals this year in the run-up to the UK’s General Election, one thing that has not gained much attention yet is the possibility that a new term will enter the political language.

Mr Cameron has said that the debates cannot go ahead without the Green Party, and suggestions have been made that if it is decided to hold them without the Prime Minister, an empty podium will be provided should he change his mind. And so the practice of providing such an unattended lectern has been tentatively named ’empty podiuming’.

This is of course a ghastly and unwieldy term which is highly unlikely to catch on, simply because it is too ugly to be taken seriously. However, Empty Podium itself sounds like a term which could metamorphose from being simply a description of what might be provided to a term which becomes inescapable as the campaign fires up.

Will it ever be more than a reference point for this election, or could it become a tactic of the future, that anybody who refuses to take part in something will be threatened with an Empty Podium. It is too early to say, of course, but this could be the genesis of a new term in the political vernacular.

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The Latest Word on Gay Marriage

Gay marriage is a hot political topic like never before. US President Barack Obama has backed it, individual American states are embroiled in legislation over it, while across the pond, David Cameron’s UK coalition is consulting on allowing it.

From a language point of view, the issue is fascinating. Because one of its side effects is to spawn a plethora of debate over the status of the word marriage itself.

It is important to remember just how important words are where marriage is concerned. It is one of those rare things in life where simply saying some words can effect a tangible change in somebody’s status as a person. So long as location and celebrant are approved, the act of listening to certain words and then saying “I do” moves someone from the status of being single to being married. Words enact the change.

So the use of the word marriage itself has to be important. Googling the question “Does there need to be a new word for marriage” brings up a range of debates and articles, with suggestions such as Holy Matrimony, Sanctirage or Garriage finding their way onto the internet.

But all of these miss the point. By trying to introduce new words for marriage, any sense of equality is immediately lost. If gay marriage becomes more and more accepted, calling it something else will still make it be perceived as something else, and the very way it is referred to will confer a sense that it is not equal. The current debate on Twitter, where the hashtag #gaymarriage is prevalent, makes the point. A number of people are pointing out that this hash tag gives a sense that #gaymarriage is a different type of marriage, and surely it should just be called marriage. So I think the quest for a different name is a way for people to undermine the very idea of this kind of union and strip it of its legitimacy by calling it something else.

Much more reasoned is the idea that dictionaries themselves will have to redefine marriage as a union between two people, and not a union between a man and a woman. Ben Zimmer of the Visual Thesaurus has written an excellent account of the history of the word’s definitions, and I commend it as vital background on this subject.

It is clear that this debate is going to run and run. It will only be over when the term Gay Marriage itself has been consigned to history.

Laugh Out Loud at David Cameron

It says much about the British public that despite Rebekah Brooks’ hours of evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, one trivial detail is likely to be the major thing her appearance is remembered for.

That triviality is the revelation that Prime Minister David Cameron sent her a number of texts, many of which were finished LOL under the mistaken assumption that it meant Lots of Love.

From a Wordability point of view, it is a fascinating insight into how new words face a rocky road to general usage. LOL, the Laugh Out Loud acronym applied to many online utterances, gained full acceptance in 2011 when it was accepted as a word by the Oxford English Dictionary.

The Cameron error highlights the fact that many people can be aware of a new word and know that uttering it confers some kind of hipness on the user. But their inability to use it properly shows not only that they are not hip, but also emphasises that they are trying and failing in their attempts at coolness.

I personally never use LOL, and am happy to admit that for a long time, I didn’t actually know what the letters stood for. But that was irrelevant, because I knew what it actually meant because I had seen it used in context. Being exposed to its correct usage would make it impossible for anyone to misuse it. The Prime Minister’s mistake suggests he has no friends on Facebook.

Of course, the other thing about the revelation is that you are left wondering just how long Ms Brooks allowed Mr Cameron to act like a linguistic pillock before she finally told him the truth. And given the reaction that the news has got, he may now be searching for some new acronyms with which to finish any future texts to his famous friend.

An Omnishambles at the Heart of Downing Street?

When I heard that the recent run of Coalition policies was being described as an Omnishambles, I thought that a great new political word had been coined. The fact that I was wrong says a great deal about the political animals currently at the top in the UK.

Labour leader Ed Miliband’s use of Ominshambles during Prime Minister’s Questions in April was not a new piece of linguistic dexterity coined just for the occasion. He was actually quoting political comedy The Thick of It, and in particular, its spin meister Malcolm Tucker.

The good news for Mr Miliband is that the word has stuck. The Omnishambles Budget, the Omnishambles of other recent incidents – this word summing up a number of things going wrong simultaneously is now appearing on radio and in print. It shows once again the power that one word can have to encapsulate a mood and dominate a political discusson.

But what does the rush to use Ominshambles tell use about the users? Are they using it because it is perfect and truly sums up the current situation? Or are they dong it simply to be trendy, to show they are in the know about hip political comedies which are clearly very familiar to our political leaders and they want to be part of the club.

If it is the latter, which seems likely, especially as I have heard it being delivered with an almost smug smirk, then I am happy to admit that I am not in the know and don’t have to slavishly jump on a bandwagon to show that I am part of any clique.

Omnishambles has the power to be a very useful piece of shorthand for the Opposition, and if it enters common usage, then this is a linguistic game well played. But if its in-joke nature annoys people and makes them feel cut off from our politicians and the joke they are sharing with each other, then its usage could backfire. In fact, it could reinforce the sense that behind closed doors, the leading politicians are all great mates, performing for the cameras but sharing interests away from them, and that could serve to highlight the distance people are increasingly feeling from the goings-on in Westminster.

Frasier’s Effect on The Special Relationship

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?

Why Horsegate Should Ride Away

It must be obvious by now just how much I admire the English language and its regular diet of new words. But even I have my limits.

So what has promoted my ire? It’s very simple. It’s Horsegate. It’s the ‘scandal’ over the retired police horse cared for by Rebekah Brooks and subsequently ridden by David Cameron. The whole equine fiasco has been dubbed ‘horsegate’ by the media and the social media world.

And I hate it! Not the story, which is of course fascinating, amusing and worrying in almost equal measures. No, I hate the way that every vaguely salacious or scandalous story which hits the news and lasts for longer than about 20 minutes automatically receives a ‘-gate’ at the end of it as a word by which it will be referred to for evermore.

It’s lazy. It’s cliched. But above all, it offends my linguistic sensibilities. It is derived, of course, from the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. This has led to the belief that you can borrow the gate from the building where it took place and simply append it to anything. And it’s plain wrong. There is nothing inherent in the word ‘gate’ that means anything to do with scandal. Imagine if the Nixon scandal had centred around the Waterfish building, we’d all be discussing the horsefish story now.

Now I know what you’re thinking. I have continually espoused a theory of language growing and evolving, of words taking on new meanings, and if gate has grown to be imbued with scandal-related meaning when used as a suffix, surely I should applaud that, that is what language does. But on this occasion, I am going to stick to my guns. I think it is ugly and unnecessary. A glance down Wikipedia’s list of ‘gate’ usages convinces me I am right, so ludicrous are many of the entries. I think Fajitagate and Toiletgate are possibly the pick of an appalling bunch.

I love the ever-changing nature of English. But this constant neologism is almost scandalous. It’s just that you’ll never hear me refer to it as languagegate.