Robert Fisk’s World: If you think we can ignore these linguistic crimes, think again

My favourite is 'any', as in 'any passengers who may have been inconvenienced'

Share
Related Topics

Still scribble, scribble, scribble, eh Mr Gibbon? Or so the king is said to have enraged the odiferous man who described the rise and fall of the Roman hegemon.

Yes, I use this word advisedly since we are at the mercy of those who will misuse language for their own advantage or because laptops have made them sloppy or because they think it chic to befuddle us with psycho-crap. For the latter, I draw your attention to a new publisher – Corvus – whose "publishing director", one Nicolas Cheetham, was stupid enough to send me his "launch catalogue" the other day.

Corvus, he informs me, is the Latin for raven. No problem there. But then he goes on: "Our books are diverse in setting, tone and genre ... Corvus takes a particular delight in patrolling those fertile zones of convergence at genre borders, where the best stories are to be found..." Ye gods, where do people like young Cheetham – for young he must be to write such twaddle – come from? "Patrolling ... fertile zones of convergence at genre borders" simply means nothing on this earth.

But it is intended to impress, isn't it? To make us believe that Master Cheetham is clever, nuanced, even – heaven spare us – literate. It is meant to make us believe that he is a Deep Thinker, that Corvus is appealing to the super-educated, those who "push the envelope", who talk the non-language of BBC management and New Labour; it was, after all, not surprising that the BBC's top crap-talk specialist ended up working for Tony Blair.

Then there's what I call the give-away word – the one word in a sentence that reveals the unwillingness of the writer or speaker to own up to a fault. My favourite just now is "any". As in British Airways' apology to "any passengers who may have been inconvenienced" by having their baggage lost at Terminal 5. The key word is "any". After tens of thousands of passengers did actually lose their checked-in baggage, BA simply referred to "any" passengers – in other words, that there might be one or two or perhaps none at all.

An identical linguistic swindle was perpetrated by yet another airline a few weeks ago when easyJet's in-flight magazine depicted models posing in Berlin's Jewish Holocaust memorial. The text of the article actually refers to Berlin's "turbulent past" – a weasel way of covering up the evils of Nazism – but what caught my eye was the airline's admission that "easyJet profusely apologises to anyone who may be offended by the inappropriate (sic) fashion shoot...". Anyone? I say it again: ANYONE? Jewish groups and even passengers en route to Tel Aviv were very much offended. And rightly so. Yet it's the old cowardly "any" passengers once more. If they don't know of any passengers – which of course they do – why did easyJet apologise in the first place? Similarly, the publishing house which produced this nauseous article regretted "any offence caused". Do they really believe that the "offence" might not exist? That it was all made up?

And so I move on to the phrase which is now becoming a cliché: anti-Semitism. It is not a cliché – it was certainly never intended to be – but those who use this phrase to assault any decent person who dares to criticise Israel are turning it into one. They are making anti-Semitism respectable – and shame upon them for it.

The latest idiot to assist the anti-Semites is Labour MP Denis MacShane who last month condemned Channel 4's Dispatches programme on Britain's Israel lobby with the words: "anti-Semitic politics is back". I should perhaps add that this is the same man who, as Minister for Europe, defended Blair's criminal intention to go to war in Iraq with the admonition to fellow European politicians that sometimes people were in need of "a guide". He had obviously forgotten that the German for "guide" is Führer.

But while we're on the subject of Holocausts, let's turn to the unmentionable one, the Armenian Holocaust – yes, also a capital "H" – which our Foreign Office still claims to believe doesn't qualify as a genocide. A million and a half Armenian Christians were murdered or sent on death marches in 1915 by the Muslim Ottoman Turks, but the British Government doesn't want to upset the present-day Turks.

Denis MacShane, to his great credit, has long demanded an independent international commission to inquire into the massacres. Documents unearthed by Geoffrey Robertson QC under the Freedom of Information Act, however, show not only the hypocrisy and cynicism of the Foreign Office – cutting Armenians out of Holocaust Memorial Day and denying that there is "unequivocal evidence" of genocide (which of course there is), but admitting that "HMG is open to criticism in terms of the ethical question (sic)" in denying the Armenian Holocaust but should do so "given the importance of our relations (political, strategic and commercial) with Turkey...".

For the correspondence between "researcher analysts", "draftpersons" and ministers also betrays what I believe is a growing and hateful practice: sloppy grammar and spelling in emails. For some reason, we would never accept such a practice in a typewritten note. But here's a classic example of a letter to a minister which includes not only political dishonesty but also an inability even to reread and correct a printed communication.

The note, dated 21 January last year, refers to the Foreign Office's habit of dredging up three of Turkey's favourite historians – who, needless, to say, deny the Armenian Holocaust – and of the public's demand for a full list of historians consulted by the FO's "researchers". I leave it to readers to groan at the inadequacy of the text, let alone the mistakes of FO "draftsperson" Sofka Brown:

"We've had a response (which has taken its time getting round to u)s which very specifically requests a detailed list of all the evidence looked at wich leads us to believe that the evidence is not sufficiently unequivocal. We do not propose to provide a list is reply..." The misplaced closing of brackets, the mis-spelling of "which" (as "wich") and "in" (as "is") would be regarded as poor English at an average school. But what are we to make of it when it's contained in a Foreign Office note to a minister?

I guess HMG's civil servant was just patrolling fertile zones of convergence at genre borders between Armenia and Turkey. I apologise for "any" offence caused to Sofka Brown.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Financial Services, SQL, Stored Procedure

£55000 - £65000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: One of the mos...

Senior UNIX Engineer (UNIX, Linux, Solaris, IBM MQ Server)

£62000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior UNIX Engineer (UNIX, Linux, Solaris...

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice