Robert Fisk: I may need 'space' to get over this linguistic crime

Share
Related Topics

My favourite comic (before I moved on to the War Picture Library) was always the Eagle.

And my favourite hero was, invariably, Dan Dare. He was the bravest, smartest spaceman around and did battle on page one of each issue with the Mekon, a sort of evil, bubble-like, egg-shaped outer-space version of Osama bin Laden. I seem to recall that each new serial would carry the strap-line: "Dan Dare's most exciting adventure yet!" And I would dutifully take this as truth. After all, Dan Dare was a spaceman and there was nothing that couldn't happen in space.

Yet there is a new and frequent use of the word "space" that is driving me to distraction. Artists use it; office managers use it; architects and journalists and incomprehensible academics use it. I come across this wretched word almost every day and I am beginning to wonder if writers think it's some kind of password to genius, some "higher thinking" word that makes them sound educated, up to date, plausible, philosophical, impressive. It's the kind of word used by writers in what I call "tink-thanks". There are plenty of other words that stick in my craw. "Perceive" and "perception" were in vogue a quarter of a century ago (Jonathan Dimbleby was always kicking this into touch); and "tipping point", which started about eight years ago, gets my goat.

But "space" makes me go nuts. "The public space is shared," one of my favourite writers declared the other day. So why didn't the article just say "in public" (which is what it meant)? "Which isn't to say that it's reductionist ... nor that there's no space for poetic phrasing" appeared in a review of a science book in The Independent on Sunday this month. Surely what the reviewer meant was that "there's room for poetic phrasing" (or "poetic writing"). Another article in the same paper referred to a trilogy "that explored the inner space of a post-religious sensibility", which leaves me completely floored. Was that the purpose?

Then there's the San Francisco advertising agency which said this month of renting the entire country of Liechtenstein that guests could "gain access to distinctive spaces". Floored again. Does this mean that the master of Vaduz castle will open up the rooms at midnight, or that the local church will be available at 3am? Then there's the director of a forthcoming documentary on peace processes whose request to interview me might have been considered if he had not written in his letter that he wanted to "give space to the long view" about the conflicts in Israel and Afghanistan. I simply don't know what he's talking about. I think – I only think, mark you – that he means he will give perspective to the conflicts. But "space"? No thanks, I'll pass.

On Al Jazeera, a commentator announces that the Yemeni opposition needs "time and space to organise themselves". What bullshit! Quite apart from the fact that pseudo marriage counsellors use the same pseudo-phrase "time and space", what was the commentator trying to say? That the Yemeni opposition needs "time to be left alone" in order to produce a coherent organisation? Then, in the book review section of an American Catholic magazine, I find one Marissa Valeri declaring: "The spaces for young women to engage in reflecting on our shared experiences are few and far between..." Does she perhaps mean "opportunities"?

Get my point? Well wait. Here's the magazine of Carleton University – an institution, by the way, with an excellent teaching record and which has given me an honorary degree – carrying a letter which complains about a computer screen and mouse which "take away all the tactile and spatial sensations of the reading experience". I think letter-writer Rick Hippolite got the word "tactile" spot on and then added "spatial" because it sounded more academic, more high falutin'. Then in the same magazine, there's an editorial from the vice-chancellor herself which says: "We need space to study... We need space to read and reflect... They all had one element in common: the need for additional space."

The last sentence is correct, of course. The earlier "spaces" should be "rooms", "halls", or "libraries". But this is nothing compared with an interview in the same journal with an American architect who claims that "the truth is that we truly crave to be together, and workspaces will become more critical in answering that need". Later the interviewer writes: "Her company did the workspace...It's a highly secure space...There was a need for space that was not programmed ahead of time...Her firm originally focused on living spaces...Driven by her conviction that live-work spaces were merging". Sorry, folks. I'm just lost here. Is the missing word "building"? Or "room"?

I should add that the origins of this miserable use of "space" go back some time. In the English edition of her excellent book Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War, Barbara Ehrenreich quotes the historian George Mosse as saying, in 1993, that war cemeteries and memorials serve as the "sacred spaces of a new civil religion". I beg your pardon? Surely Mosse meant not "spaces" but plain old "places".

And so it goes on. I have just come across "that pitiful space between real life and actual death". I suspect "pitiful moment" or "pitiful period" is the meaning. Even in translating French, we stumble into "space". France's new ban on women covering up in éspaces publics turns up in English – correctly, of course – as in "public spaces". But as for the French, what, for God's sake, is wrong with en public, which is exactly what is meant? I guess that when we live in a world where US Secretary of State La Clinton can get away at a press conference with talking of a "conclusory statement" about bombing Gaddafi and referring to air sorties as "sortays", anything goes. After this, a word to readers. Next time you come across "space", rip the bloody page to pieces. Unless, of course, it's an old copy of the Eagle and you're deep into Dan Dare's most exciting adventure yet.



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little