No. 25: Circumnavagism

ISMISM New concepts for the Nineties
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Circumnavagism n: a condition in which it is impossible for individuals to establish the truth of a particular story without going round in circles and, thus, returning to the point you started from. viz: Lisa Clayton's claim that she sailed alone and unassisted around the world, reputedly the first woman to do so.

Ms Clayton's story is disputed by carping "yachties", who believe she was assisted on at least one occasion, by a BBC film crew. The issue of whether she did or did not circumnavigate the world is now highly circumfused.

The same condition is rife in politics, eg, the contention of the former chief secretary to the Treasury Jonathan Aitken - a master of the art of circumventing choppy waters (often with the aid of circumlocution) - that he knew nothing about arms sold to Iran through a company of which he was a part-time director.

Circumnavagism is not to be confused with circumcision, although we will never know whether the decision made by the city of Jerusalem to turn down the offer of a replica of Michelangelo's David from the city of Florence was because the statue represents the Israeli king naked (and thus uncircumspect) or because his marble foreskin is prominently intact, foreskins being strictly circumscribed by Jewish law.

Circumcisional evidence is too scanty to prove whether or not David's foreskin was a barrier to entry into Jerusalem. What is clear is that the story of the Renaissance masterpiece is sheathed in circumnavagism.

See also circumscissile adj: the Exocet-like technique of causing a split or wreaking havoc in the most casual or round-about manner; viz. Margaret Thatcher's response last week, when asked at a US speaking engagement about the Prime Minister, "Who is Major?"

See also circumambulism: German tourists are finding it hard this summer to circumambulate Copenhagen, because new German-language versions of the official city maps are littered with misleading directions. Instead of being directed to one of the city's principal museums, visitors find themselves in a queue for a giant public lavatory at the other end of town, while those wanting to visit the home of the reigning Queen Margarethe end up at a socialist meeting hall in the suburbs, having in some cases travelled there in a circumbendibus.

No one can prove whether the mistakes are wilful or an error on the part of Copenhagen's cartographers. Whatever the truth, they are keeping the Germans marching in uncomfortable circles. A clear-cut case of elementary circumnavagism.