Clinical Unspeak, China, ‘language rapists’, & ‘Melanie’ on Obama
March 3, 2008
While Oliver Kamm gaily holds a lit match to whatever shreds remained of his credibility (see update here), a quick round-up of other Unspeak news follows.
• “Evidence-based medicine” is a term for what you might fondly have hoped doctors would always have done: adjust their practice according to the most rigorous possible statistical analyses of what works and what doesn’t. Agree as we do that it is a good thing, we must also acknowledge that its name is a cute bit of Unspeak, assuming as already beyond argument its own definition of “evidence”, and relegating its opponents to the status of witch-doctors. This, after all, was nicely admitted by an evangelist for the paradigm’s clinical power, Druin Birch, during a discussion in the TLS letters pages:
Evidence-based medicine is such an unfairly named movement that there can be no sensible argument against it. J. K. Aronson is right (Letters, February 15) to see it as a front for those who believe some types of evidence are worth more than others, and correct that I accept the reality of this hierarchy.
• In a public debate, someone once asked me why my book did not devote itself to denouncing Chinese Unspeak, rather than carping mostly about the UK and US governments. I replied, reasonably enough I thought, that political English in our time was still worthy of some interrogation, and unfortunately I did not understand Chinese (beyond a very specialized martial-arts vocabulary). Happily, other people do. Chris O’Brien wrote a fascinating article for Forbes on how he spent two years as a “language polisher” for the official news agency:
“The three closenesses” and “The four steadfasts” are just a couple of the catchphrases championed by President Hu Jintao that are guaranteed to send English spell-check programs whirring to life. “Eight honors and eight disgraces” is another party favorite. The government views such buzzwords as essential tools in maintaining its influence over the morality of the people.
From O’Brien I also learned of the China Media Project, which offers among other things a useful list of definitions for current phrases of Chinese government Unspeak. The stipulation that the media should adhere to the principle of “correct guidance of public opinion”, for example, means that they should report whatever the Party tells them. Failure to do so would be a violation of “propaganda discipline”. And “civilized creation [and management] of the Web” means, um, censoring it.
• For some comic relief, readers may peruse an extraordinary “essay” entitled “Feminism and the English Language“, by a man called David Gelernter, for the “American Enterprise Institute”. The delicious irony of this blubbering rant, crammed as it is with violent misogyny and lies, is that Gelernter professes to be trying to defend “our ability to write and read good, clear English”, associating himself through his title with George Orwell, while at the same time perpetrating sentences like the following:
So feminist authorities went back to the drawing board. Unsatisfied with having rammed their 80-ton 16-wheeler into the nimble sports-car of English style, they proceeded to shoot the legs out from under grammar–which collapsed in a heap after agreement between subject and pronoun was declared to be optional.
For good measure, he calls his imaginary army of feminist language-police “language rapists”. Ho ho ho.
• Lastly, the operator of the sockpuppet known as “Melanie Phillips” has been really pushing the envelope recently, reporting that:
Barack Obama failed unequivocally to repudiate the support expressed for his candidacy by the black power, Islamist, racist antisemite Louis Farrakhan.
Shall we refresh our memories on how Obama failed unequivocally to repudiate Farrakhan’s support? Uh, he said he “would reject and denounce it”. (Update: See Alex Higgins’s magnificent satire in comments on that whole line of questioning.) It is only natural that the fervid, spasming bolus that is the microbrain of “Melanie” finds this somehow equivocal, because “she” believes that Barack Obama is the Trojan horse for a shadowy group of anti-Semitic Islamists who want to take over America and nuke Israel. Whatever he actually says cannot in principle dislodge this paranoiac pellet from her bolus. But then, if “Melanie”‘s writing were in any way evidence-based, the satire wouldn’t be so entertaining, would it, readers?