No politician is free of platitudes, but some seem more blatantly devoid of meaning than others. As someone who cares about the meaning of words, hollow-speak of any kind offends me, and I have a hard time looking past the breathtaking abuse words suffer at the hands of federal politicians publishing in national newspapers.
In today’s National Post, Sheila Copps amply demonstrates that she is just another Liberal lemming, continuing the parties’ predictable script that, adjusted only in the wake of defeat, has been changed in word but not in essence. But my main contention is her constant violation of Orwell’s rules of good writing.
First, she explains the Latin root of the word “manifesto,” as deriving from manifestus, “clear or readily apparent.” As a political writer and a heavyweight politician running for presidency of the Liberals, such a violation of Orwell’s caution against using foreign language is inadvisable, yet she seems to dwell, soak and luxuriate in it, setting the tone for the horrors to come. Anyway, is there a worse way to begin a piece about evolving to modern times than invoking Latin etymology?
No Liberal today can begin a speech without addressing the parties’ recent demise. Next, a self-righteous assessment of what went wrong is followed in turn by a way forward invariably laden with the same hubris-ridden entitlement that caused their defeat in the first place. Of this, Copps’ is guilty.
A Liberal who believes “we have been dining out for too long on former glories” can’t also write in the same article “the values of our beautiful Canada were shaped by the Liberal party. Canada is a Liberal country.” These statements are incompatible: she professes to understand that the meal is over, yet she can’t stop stuffing her face.
Here is a prolix sentence trying to assume grandeur by using needlessly puffed-up words: “We must use technology to continually interconnect so that we operate as a unified organization to protect the values of all reasonable Canadians.”
Without changing the meaning, this could read: “We must use technology effectively to connect with Canadians.” Hardly a profound or impressive statement in an age defined by social media, though her assumption that only Liberal Canadians are “reasonable” is typically patronizing, condescending, and more evidence of hubris.
Copps hands out clichés like Halloween candy with the expectation we will eat them up just as readily, but, just like devouring too much candy, consuming her hackneyed speech in one sitting sickens my stomach. The offences bleed one into another. Addressing and redressing each example of brutal writing requires an elephantine effort that’s unnecessary. The point is clear.
Copps ends where she begins, with one final Orwellian violation: “winners never quit and quitters never win.” If it were me, I’d conclude with something lucid and powerful. This common aphorism is irrelevant and vague. It can mean different things. Does she mean that the Liberals lost last May because the quit? No. Presumably, she means she will work tenaciously to get into power–hardly a unique trait in politics, the natural home and breeding grounds for cut-throat opportunists. She doesn’t say what she means. Unlike her Latin definition of manifestus, her conclusion, and everything else, is anything but “clear or readily apparent.”
Every party and politician is guilty of using similar barbarous language. I oppose it everywhere. I hope to alert my very small, noble readership to the dangers of this pernicious breed of writing, not to denounce Liberals in general, though in this case it’s hard to do one and not the other. Copps was the unfortunate victim of this entry because I happened to fall upon her article today and the mood struck me.
ORWELL’S 6 RULES OF WRITING:
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use a passive voice where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
–From, “Politics and the English Language”