Keeping your word, keeping our words
Monty Skew our political correspondent writes
If ever you need evidence of the calibre of those who claim to govern the world look no further than the riot of self-congratulation that concluded the COP21 jamboree in Paris. Unless I am doing them an injustice. Perhaps it was not the delegates’ mental calibre causing the pigs overhead to loop the loop (I saw them myself) in sheer astonishment at the shouts of triumph greeting the news there had been agreement on the measures the nations of the world will take in order to stop London, New York, Bangladesh, and half the island states on the planet disappearing under the waves some time soon after next week. Perhaps it was industrial strength ignorance of what happens to international agreements to undertake common action.
Did you notice for instance that Cameron’s ‘offer’ to the EU for Britain to accept 20,000 refugees fleeing from death and torture in Syria was a postdated offer to start only after he has left office when a new prime minister (possibly called Teresa) can claim total lack of responsibility for the offer, which therefore no longer will have any validity? (This is called ‘forward planning’.) There are brave organisations, conscientious enough to disbelieve the fantasies published after conferences where governments promise funds to save 35 million people from an allegedly natural disaster in some far away continent of which the conference participants know little except the beach resorts, who track how much money actually arrives by comparison with the burgeoning promises that justified the splendid dinners when the conferences ended. The percentage is less than 100%. In fact much less. Of course it varies, and different groups make different estimates, but something like 10% may not be too far off the average. And of course, it nearly always comes with strings (the money must be spent on projects run by companies from the contributing nation, or it will actually turn out to be a loan, interest-bearing of course, or it must come not as cash but in the form of physical ‘assets’ such as out-of-date warships for which the contributing nation has no further use.)
So the wild jubilation in Paris was joy distastefully unconfined at success in producing a page or two of text, and agreeing to approve it. Even that took two weeks. Can’t have been difficult though. If you stick a thousand or two delegates in some good-class hotels in Paris and tell them it is their duty to reach agreement on a few pages within two weeks, I reckon many of us could fix that, if given the funds which governments generously contribute for such uplifting purposes
The question is not what programme did they draw up on those pages. The question is what parts of that programme, if any, will be put into action. There is a massive body of empirical evidence showing how well programmes agreed by governments with other governments get implemented. Not well at all. As a random example, France, the host nation, solemnly agreed as a member of the EU some years ago to run a budget deficit of no more 3% per annum to guard against the risk of economic disaster. France has shamelessly exceeded that figure every single year since.
You may want to take your chance on global warming really slowing. On the other hand, why not buy some camping gear for your family and an open-date ticket to New Zealand?
There was another spot of unpleasantness with Manos about his report on the senility of the English language, quite apart from the fact that it included too many irrelevant idiosyncratic views of his own. When he came in he was already drunk and his criticisms of the English, and in fact of most other peoples of Europe except the Greeks, inside the office and in the street outside were so violent that we had complaints from all the other offices in the street. (It was, though, the only time I have so far seen Louise smile.) However, he’s a good lad at heart, and we had promised to put in at least a bowdlerised version of his stuff, so we calmed him down with Karela’s reserve bottle of slivovitz, and here is the second part, cut down now to ultra-short form and edited with a light touch (ie making almost no changes to the way it came in) by myself
Why English is becoming a dead language: part 2
Loss of vocabulary See it for yourselves! When did you last come across any of the following? Have you ever seen any of them on a screen? Exiguous; ineluctable; fuliginous; countervail; morganatic; ruddle; weft; obnubilation; pleach; imbrue; clerisy; philippic?
Loss of useful distinctions: refute (vs repudiate); celibate (vs chaste); aggravate (vs irritate); soon (vs ‘no’); evidence (vs proof); everyone (vs some of us); truth (vs my personal opinion / what it said in the Daily Telegraph)
Loss of phrases from other languages: tha’s mony a mickle maks a muckle; quod erat demonstrandum; dolce far niente; sauve qui peut!; Deutschland ûber alles (each one of these is or was in its own country roughly equivalent to ‘that’s just the way things are’)
Loss of quotations: ‘I think I could eat one of Bellamy’s veal pies’; ‘he holds him with his glittering eye’; ‘do you bite your thumb at us, sir?’; ‘much may be made of a Scotchman if he be caught young’; ‘He who can does. He who cannot, teaches’; ‘You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din’, and so on.
Loss of allusions: the Welsh wizard; Clio; Judge Jeffreys; Cynthia Payne; Peterloo; Crichel Down; 7/7; Tien An Men; ermine; 2o C; Schengen; Enron; desiccated calculating machine; Libor; Ascot; Lesbos; lithium; omertà; 3/9/1939; Judy Garland; 6/8/1945; and so on and on in all directions
Byzantinism: person to person verbal interaction (= ‘conversation’); financial gratitude symbol (= ‘bribe’); intimate hospitality industry (you can work out the translation for yourselves); for vehicular access proceed to rear of building (= ‘you can drive in at the back’); to develop leaner faster growth models so that our business is scalable (gibberish, so the intended meaning was presumably ‘to make a bigger profit’)
Cliché:‘left-wing extremist’; ‘any time soon’; (climate change / deforestation / the war/whatever it may be..)..‘is spiralling out of control’; ‘wake up and smell the coffee’; ‘the National Health Service is the best in the world’; ‘we are a small nation and with the best will in the world’; ‘far be it from me to criticise, but…’; ‘we deeply regret what happened and wish to express our sympathy to…’; ‘it is time to draw a line under that and move on…’
Constructional chaos: examples in almost anything you hear or read, not only the Independent online and the Guardian, and journalism by those who went to school in America. Just one example: ignorance that as (in second place) = although or given that. ‘Placid as he is…’ = ‘Although he is placid…’ And ‘Thin as it is, it’ll just fit in’ = ‘Being thin, it’ll just fit in’
Absolutely nothing to do with comparison, so absolutely no need of an additional preceding ‘as’.
Political definition of the week: Resolving the Greek debt crisis means postponing the Greek debt crisis
Challenge of the week: Devise a term to describe the tactic of escaping blame for a first crime by committing a second worse one and name, if you dare, a country which goes in for this
Prediction of the week: When the Fed puts up interest rates, banks and bankers will become much richer; with rare exceptions of the well connected, everyone else will become poorer
Guess of the week: When that happens, economic commentators will describe it as ‘baffling’ and ‘unexpected’