When society attacks
August 30, 2011
In the wake of the great English smartphone riots, gelatine-fizzog’d brayer David Cameron concocted a splendidly vivid mixed metaphor:
Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face
Or is that a mixed metaphor? Perhaps the explosion was one of pus, the pus having built up in the festering wound, rather than an orange petroleum-fuelled explosion of the sort that everything makes in movies when you blow it up, including tanks of water and trees? Meanwhile, the idea that “our face” is singular, that the whole of society shares one face, is rather horrific. (Especially if that face is David Cameron’s.)
Most interesting, perhaps, was Cameron’s glib incitement of a social fightback, invoking the chaotic vigilante justice by underdogs-who-just-can’t-take-it-any-more of fightback, while simultaneously clawing back that plainly irresponsible suggestion with the rhetorically softening epithet social. (That Cameron wants to start a massive fightback against “ideas”, rather than, say, a reasoned argument, is depressingly revealing.) “Fightback” is also a helpful close cousin to the populist and antilegal concept of payback, as in community payback and Nick Clegg’s hilarious proposal for riot payback. Perhaps if everyone who joined up to the social fightback that Cameron incited did so while wearing a full-faced David Cameron mask and a gimp outfit, that would “send” the right “message”.
Meanwhile, in other Unspeak-related developments: there is a new website called newswordy, which picks a topical word, giving current citations from news or Twitter, and gives a short definition of it. It sometimes confuses parts of speech (“vindication” is said to mean “to clear”), and makes no attempt at analysis whatsoever, prompting one to wonder what exactly the point is. It’s beautifully designed, though, isn’t it?
In vocabulary news, the new COED includes the words sexting and cyberbullying, while Collins has decided that words including aerodrome and supererogate are defunct. I call on the Unspeak™ Community™ to use them daily from now on.
Lastly, from the LRB, one learns that philosophising was “Mary Wollstonecraft’s euphemism for sex with William Godwin”. Have you done any philosophising lately, readers?