Ceasefire: Words: Pan

Click to follow
The Independent Online
BEFORE Ulster loyalist spokesmen began throwing verbal bricks at the 'pan-nationalists' I must admit that I had not come across this particular pan- combination. Pan-Buddhists, Pan-Anglo-Saxons and the Pan- Celtic Movement, yes: Pan American Airways certainly. I had even heard of the pan-

Satanists, who thought the Prince of Darkness ruled the world. All these expressions are attached to specifically named groups. Pan-Slavism wanted a confederation of all Slavonic- speaking people, Pan-Celtism made common cause with all Celts, and so on. But the loyalists won't put a name to it: they can't say 'pan-Irish' because they honestly don't believe Ireland has a common cause.

The ancient Greeks, whose words pas (all) and panta (everything) gave us all these combinations, would have taken pan-nationalist to mean 'comprising all the nationalists', like their pamphylos, 'from all sorts of different tribes', or the modern Greek panethnos, 'from all nations'.

However, the ancient Greeks could put the pan prefix on anything, and often it meant little more than 'very', as in panaplos (highly delicate), pammikron (unusually small) or panaristos (the very best). On that principle pan-nationalist means 'very nationalist' - or, on the analogy of the militant Pan Africanist Congress, founded as an offshoot of the ANC, 'extreme nationalist'. This is rather more like it. Spoken by a loyalist, pan-nationalism is as highly charged a bogey-word as, say, pan-teutonism was for many a hundred years ago. Some loyalists even prefer to talk of 'the pan-

nationalist front', with its ugly overtones of racial intolerance.

Milton, that zealous Protestant, would naturally have taken the strictly classical view of the matter - the idea of pan- as meaning 'all-embracing'. He coined pandemonium, his word for the high parliament of all the devils in Hell.