We are losing our grip on language. We have conceded the floor. Someone else is making the rules. While some of us worried about the death of ‘whom’ or the difference between ‘less’ and ‘fewer’, somebody went and made the phrase ‘migration crisis’ ubiquitous. It isn’t a crisis, is it? It is an emergency. The difference is relatively subtle but incredibly important. ‘Emergency’ implies a situation that is dire but solvable. That is why we have emergency services, emergency plumbers, and emergency dentists. At Christmas, when grandparents visit, you get the emergency chairs out the shed or the attic. Crisis doesn’t imply a solution is possible in the same way. So for example, Arsenal under Wenger were often in crisis, but their predicament wasn’t an emergency, because there was nothing anybody could do.
To label the movement of people away from extreme poverty and/or threats to their lives, people so desperate that they are often exploited by criminals on their way and regularly end up risking their lives, a ‘crisis’ rather than an ’emergency’ allows us to remain spectators. We can sit on the sidelines wringing our hands but we don’t feel obliged to help because really, what could we do? It’s a crisis. You can’t solve a crisis? Can you?
And that isn’t the only example. Democracy, post Brexit, just means ‘what most people reckon’. The ‘will of the people’ need not have any relation to what is in the country’s best interests. There is no suggestion that voting is a privilege, or that to do so without a basic understanding of what you are voting for is immoral. Just bang a vote out. Go with your gut. Bang it out and then get back to the pub, yeah? Great. What did you reckon? You just put anything? Yeah. Nice one. Yeah. Fuck it. Great.
And if the economy collapses? No problem. If everyone in Britain ends up on a zero hours contract and works for one hour a month at minimum wage we will, under the present definition of the phrase, have full employment. (Oh sorry, not minimum wage, living wage. By which, of course, I don’t mean the old definition of living wage – the amount of money one needed to earn to be able to live comfortably – I mean the new definition of living wage – which is, if I’m correct, basically just minimum wage but with a title that muddies any argument against how low it is.)
They are slippery things, words. Slippery enough without people bending them to their will. Ooh, that’s a messy metaphor. Can you bend something slippery? Probably. You can still bend your knee if you cover your leg in mayonnaise, can’t you. I mean, I imagine you can. Obviously I wouldn’t know for sure. Who would? What? No. You get your mind out the gutter. Blimey!
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, keep an eye out for bastards twisting the meanings of words. They are all over the place. For reals.
What? You thought I’d have a solution? Who do I look like? Johnny Oxfordictionary? Soz, mate. I’m just a chump like everyone else.
Be a pal, will you? Pass me the mayonnaise on your way out? Cheers, bud. Nice one.