ISMISMNew concepts for the Nineties

No. 21: quitticism
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The Independent Online
Quit, v. tr. 1 give up; let go; abandon (a task, etc). 2 N Amer, cease; stop (quit grumbling). 3 (a) leave or depart from (a place, person, etc), (b) (of a tenant) leave occupied premises (esp notice to quit) ... In UK, found in newspaper headlines as handy four-letter truncation of "resign", "stand down", "admit guilt" and "fired, but that's completely off the record, old boy".

Departing from the public arenas of politics or business has become an enterprise demanding subtlety and finesse. It is no longer sufficient to clear one's desk and mutter insincerities about spending quality time with one's offspring. The concept of quitticism introduces into this thorny arena those vital extra elements of style, wit and insouciance. Here are some examples.

John Major's "I quit" speech last Thursday might easily have seemed no more than a eight-year-old saying: "OK, then, I'll just die and then you'll be sorry." But it was saved by the antepenultimate sentence: "In short, it is time to put up or shut up," delivered in the style of Lee Van Cleef in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Combative, feisty and faux-valedictory, it left the nation clutching its sides with glee.

Douglas Hurd's farewell on Friday was more muted, with only a trace of sneaky ambiguity ("I have thoroughly enjoyed serving under you and wish you in the future all the good fortune which your courage deserves").

Far more entertaining was John Patten's resignation letter in July 1994, a 38-word masterpiece of quittical compression: "When we met last night, you explained that you no longer wished me to remain as Secretary of State for Education, and I am writing to say how glad I have been to serve in Her Majesty's Government". (Note the sorry-can't-stop rejection of full stops.)

Quittical mass: an inferior variant of the above, characterised by uncool whingeing or wilful obscurantism. Neil Hamilton's enforced resignation in October 1994 was couched in perhaps overstrenuous language: "I wish to make it clear that I have at all times, whilst a Member of Parliament and a minister, conducted myself with integrity and due regard for propriety and probity," he wrote; "I have not been paid for by Mr Al-Fayed ..." This is not the way to bow out gracefully.

Quittical path analysis: resignation, requiring "a difficult-to-manage mixture of self-exculpation and grace under firing" (Geraldine Bedell), calls for equal parts witticism, criticism and elegy. The finest exponents (Mark Antony, King Edward VIII, Maurice Saatchi) tend on the whole not to be politicians.