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Wordblog revived

incorporating New Life


If hyperbole fails try meiosis. Cameron finds economic news ‘less exciting’

The economic news today — GDP growth in the UK falling to the slowest rate in three years (Daily Telegraph) — was so bad David Cameron must have realised that the hyperbole he has been using was inappropriate. So he gave meiosis (use of terms that gives impression that something is less important than it is) a go, describing the news (BBC) as “less exciting” than the previous quarter.

Throughout the campaign Cameron and Osborne have been talking up the Conservatives economic success. While economists have been casting doubt on their claims (Two thirds of economists say Coalition austerity harmed the economy) most people seem to have believed them. Labour has signally failed to alter this belief.

I wonder who dreamed up the idea of dismissing the very bad GDP figures as “less exciting” but the intent was clearly to dismiss the figure as less important than it really is.

The Literary Devices website defines meiosis as,  “a witty understatement that belittles or dismisses something or somebody, particularly by making use of terms that gives impression that something is less important than it is or it should be”.

Is this playing with words or simply political rhetoric?

Time for Suffolk to ‘pause’ the library consultation

The Suffolk libraries “consultation” is growing ever more bizarre, with Judy Terry, the portfolio holder for libraries telling the BBC, “It may be that some close, but has anyone actually thought that we may open some libraries?”

It looks like desperation as she talks about pubs taking over internet services and schools looking after books. Grasping at straws?. There is of course a traditional political way out of a hole like this — delay things for further consultation.

This formula was used last week by David Cameron when he ordered a “pause” in the NHS reform plans. If it is good enough for Downing Street it should be good enough for Endeavour House.

Caroline Page, the Lib Dem county councillor for Woodbridge, has made a detailed case for an extension and has written to Ms Terry. The case is specifically about Woodbridge library but most of the points apply throughout the county.

She concludes:

All these reasons make it hard for a businesslike case to be made for any ‘expression of interest’ in running a library within the timescale you have set out. The people of Woodbridge are likely to be too well-grounded in reality to want to make any proposal under such circumstances. It would seem a great shame that they should be thus deprived of a chance to have a reasoned and factually supported say in how their local library provision is to be altered.

It is a suggestion which will, no doubt, be in the minds of the ruling Conservative group on the county council as they choose a new leader to replace Jeremy Pembroke who resigned at the end of March.

George Orwell, Suffolk County Council and the English language

George Orwell, who spent some of his formative years in Southwold before writing two great novels about totalitarianism, wrote that political language, “…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

He was born Eric Blair and took his pen name from the river which, a short distance from Endeavour House, home of Suffolk County Council, changes its name from Orwell to the Gipping.

The quotation in the first paragraph is taken his essay, Politics and the English Language, which was written in 1946, after he had written Animal Farm but before publication of 1984.

Now, the political debasement of the English language is continuing in the headquarters of Suffolk County Council.

Late last year the council launched its “Suffolk Care Homes Consultation 2010“.

Now the results have been published, but it is no longer a “consultation”. It has become a “conversation”.

The two words are not interchangeable. If I say I am going to the doctor for a consultation, it means one thing. Having a conversation with my doctor is something else.

The Oxford Dictionary shows the difference:

  • Consultation noun [mass noun] the action or process of formally consulting or discussing: they improved standards in consultation with consumer representatives [count noun]: consultations between all sections of the party [count noun] a meeting with an expert, such as a medical doctor, in order to seek advice.
  • Conversation noun a talk, especially an informal one , between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged: she picked up the phone and held a conversation in French [mass noun]: the two men were deep in conversation

The source of this change is not difficult to guess. Earlier this month, Andrea Hill, chief executive of the council, wrote to employees (on libraries):

Our consultation document – intended to be honest and early publication of a future scenario for libraries – has been interpreted as a definitive proposal to close 29 libraries. With hindsight I don’t think we should have called it ‘consultation’: it is rather information to stimulate a ‘creative conversation’.

It seems that we are first being consulted and then told we have only had a conversation.

Kathy Pollard, the Lib Dem leader has blogged on the substance of the consultation results.

‘Service silos’ and ‘place-centred way’: interpretations please?

Lady Justice Hallett, coroner at the 7/7 inquest, yesterday complained about the use of jargon that could lead to confusion at disaster scenes. She gave as an example — “a conference demountable unit”, meaning a portable incident room.

I wonder what she would have made of this? “One of the changes in behaviour we need now is to stop talking to communities in service silos and work in a place-centred way. ”

That was Andrea Hill, chief executive of Suffolk county council, in her March message to employees.

Education and pathetic fallacy

On the TV news a couple of nights ago there was another report of yet another Suffolk school becoming an academy. Hollywells High has been sponsored by a Swedish educational company and renamed Ipswich Academy (BBC).

In the background was a screen with the slogan, “A learning school.”

At least, the English teachers will have at hand a good example of both tautology and pathetic fallacy.

On the internet 1980 is pre-history

It often seems that history began some time in the early 1990s. While the internet has given us unprecedented free access to information, it is not good for the facts and opinion that give us the longer perspective.

From the desktop, the 1980s seems like the dark ages. So it is disturbing that libraries are under threat from cost-cutting. The Guardian reports today that the British Library, the greatest of the British deposit libraries, is threatened by government imposed cuts which could lead to charges.

The county and city libraries have long suffered from financial cuts and the need to make themselves “popular” as well as a lack of investment in storage. The result is that they throw out old books.

This is akin to bulldozing castles and ancient houses: it diminishes our ability to understand the past and how it affects the present.

The language of reporting the Ipswich murders

Use of the word “prostitute” in coverage of the Ipswich murders has come in for predictable complaints from those who felt that “sex workers” was the more appropriate term. Prostitute is an uncomfortable description to apply to any woman but in context of events in the Suffolk town it had a necessary precision.

Not only does sex worker seem to sanitise the work, it is an all encompassing term for escorts and massage parlour workers as well as those vulnerable on the streets.

But there is something else here. The murdered women were local girls, daughters, school friends, former girl friends; they belonged to the community. They have been seen locally not only as victims of the sex trade but as victims of drugs. Parents have talked to the media of daughters “lost to them” because of drugs.
Unusually, for this kind of case the local media, day-after-day, has talked to people who knew the women and spoke about them in very human terms. BBC journalist Tim Fenton who still lives close to the town where he was brought up, wrote on the corporation’s Suffolk website:

With a population of about 140,000, Ipswich is big enough to be a proper town but not so big as to feel impersonal. It’s noticeable that the TV crews have had little problem finding people who knew and will talk about the murdered women.
Many remember them as schoolgirls or neighbours and offer the cameras personal recollections. There’s ready sympathy for the addictions that drove them to sell their bodies and risk their lives. I wonder if that would be true in a big city.
Everyone is affected.

The women killed in Ipswich have not been traded around the world for sex nor have they fled from their homes for the anonymity of a big city: they are “the girl next door”.

I live about 12 miles from Ipswich. All I hear is sympathy for the dead girls and their families. The people round here see an inextricable link between drugs and prostitution. There are drugs in our village, and with them the recognition that every family is vulnerable.

In this context the word prostitute is a recognition of reality and not “dehumanising” or implying a “value judgement” about the lives of the women, as readers of the Guardian have suggested to Ian Mayes, the readers’ editor.

Writing on the use of the terms “prostitute” and “sex worker”, he says: “The terms will probably continue to co-exist, carefully one hopes. Once again context is all-important and indicative.”

BBC not to follow NBC is describing Iraq conflict as ‘civil war’

The BBC is not following NBC in describing the conflict in Iraq as “civil war”. The fighting there, says Jon Williams, the BBC’s word new editor, “defies simple categorisation”.

He writes in the broadcaster’s Editors blog that Harvard professor Monica Toft believes Iraq meets all six of the objective criteria she has identified as being shared by all modern cvil wars . But Williams wonders if using the term civil war “really aids out understanding”.

There are, he maintains, at least two other dimensions. “In Anbar province, the violence in places like Fallujah and Ramadi is driven by the original insurgency against the US-led occupation. Anbar is a Sunni stronghold – the targets, by and large, are not Shia Muslims, but American servicemen and women. Further south, a third battle emerges – fighting between rival Shia militias,” he writes.

He arrives at the view that, “there is no single picture in Iraq – no single term can do justice to the complexity of what’s going on there.”

News from the edge of the universe

Job titles at the BBC sometimes seem to come from the realms of science fiction. The Controller of Knowledge is clearly a sentient organism controlling the universe from somewhere on the outer spiral of the galaxy.

Not really, it’s Glenwyn Benson.

That is her role in the newly formed BBC Vision division. And what will that entail? Her new boss Jana Bennett explained it to Media Guardian:

Glenwyn will be the chief architect of the BBC’s knowledge building mission as we enter the new charter period, while Emma [Swain, Deputy Controller of Knowledge] will ensure that our award-winning slates maintain momentum as we develop 360-degree commissioning.

I’ve been brushing up my klingon but clearly that is not what is spoken at the White City of the outer spiral. jIyajbe’

A matter of style

A lifetime in journalism has drummed into me a belief that a consistent style in writing is important. One of those areas is how we name people. The traditional British newspaper approach has been to give people’s full names at first use, eg John Smith, and afterwards Mr Smith. The exceptions are sportspeople, entertainers and those who have been convicted by a court. They are just “Smith” after first use.

In a blog, I felt, first names seemed inappropriate in many cases and would certainly lead to inconsistencies but the use of Mr etc was too formal. So I have taken what seemed to me to be a more American approach of using surnames with no Mr, Mrs Ms or Miss. I am not entirely comfortable with this as it reminds me of school.

Andy Bechtel, a journalism teacher at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, has raised the matter of inconsistency in his Editor’s Desk blog.

He cites the Druge Report’s home page links to reviews of the new CBS news anchor Katie Couric’s performance:

SHALES: No News Not the Best News For Katie Couric’s Debut…


ALESSANDRA: A Subdued Beginning…

VARIETY: ‘The new news looks quite a lot like the old news’…

Bechtel finds the use of two surnames and only the given name of Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times “vaguely patronising”. I agree.