Thursday, August 31, 2006

Interlude

Whilst on the subject of political language, its uses and abuses, I was driving north along the M1 today, to Luton. Now Luton is so hideous it makes Slough look like Venice. But anyway, as anyone currently familiar with that part of the M1 will know, there are roadworks crawling all over it.

The interesting thing is that they begin and end with a huge hello/goodbye sign written almost entirely in English of the 1997 Blair vintage. Remember when it was all the rage to point out the Dear Leader’s (as he then was) tendency to dispense with prepositions and pronouns, as in: “Strengthening communities, building cohesion, destroying marginalisation” (I just made all that up, but it sounds pretty lifelike)?

So these signs on the M1 say things like “Improving roads, reducing casualties, making you a better person”. I exaggerate slightly, but the gentle reader will take the point.

And it struck me that alongside Tony Blackburn and Neighbours, A. Blair and his then putter-of-words-in-the-mouth, Alastair Campbell, are the greatest single influences on the way English is today spoken in these islands.

Of course I do not include the underclass in this, their patois being an ignorant mix of Ali G and Jay Z (sic?), but for everyone else south of the border? Reflect: Blackburn, derided in the seventies for his Tony the Tiger twang (“Hulloooo, mmmmate!”), is now standard estuary English as practiced by BBC presenters; Neighbours, which ca. 1987 exported that dreadful Australian hippy habit of making a statement sound like a question (“And as I was driving along?”), well this is so ubiquitous I can hardly listen – quite literally, I can hardly bear to listen – to people who speak like this. But as instances of influence on the language, these are surely incontrovertible.

But Blair and Campbell? All that telescoping and bullet-pointing. They presaged a new linguistic dawn, they really did.

For the avoidance of doubt, I do not mean this in a good way.

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