George Orwell’s 1946 essay Politics and the English Language shows just how intermeshed the two are, says Andrew Sullivan in The Weekly Dish. As the author said, English “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts”. That still holds true. A US medical journal and podcast recently argued that socioeconomics, rather than structural racism, is the root cause of America’s social problems. Consider this attempt by the Institute for Antiracism in Medicine to put the opposite case.
“The [journal’s] podcast and associated promotional message are extremely problematic for minoritized members of our medical community. Racism was created with intention and must therefore be undone with intention. Structural racism has deeply permeated the field of medicine and must be actively dissolved through proper antiracist education and purposeful equitable policy creation. The delivery of messages suggesting that racism is non-existent and therefore non-problematic within the medical field is harmful to both our underrepresented minoritized physicians and the marginalized communities served in this country.”
This pious paragraph consists of “phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house”, as Orwell would have said. It’s “riddled with the passive voice” and “chock-full of long, compounded nouns and adjectives” designed not to say anything real, but to “send a message of orthodoxy”. The more that “ideological abstractions” such as “purposeful equitable policy creation” are repeated, the more we accept them without probing what they mean.
It’s happening in Britain too, says Janan Ganesh in the FT. The English language has always mutated, but the “constant seepage” of jargon into the mainstream seems new. One reason is surely “that cringing pushover known as the corporation, which never saw a social fad it wouldn’t yield to for a quiet life”. The other is the public sector: the NHS’s now-deleted Equality, Diversity and Inclusion webpage was a glossary of supposed medical necessities such as “allyship” and “lived experience”. The biggest threat to English isn’t Mandarin – it’s its own “descent into bullshit”. When even native anglophones can’t keep up, what hope does it have as the world’s lingua franca?
Rees-Mogg takes up the university challenge
Graduate students removing a picture of the Queen from their common room in Magdalen College, Oxford, isn’t the end of the world, Jacob Rees-Mogg told the Commons this week. It’s just “a few pimply adolescents getting excited”. But given that “the pimply adolescent in question” was from the US, he might like to think about how a Brit suggesting taking down the Stars and Stripes at an American university would go down.
As for the 150 Oxford dons who are refusing to teach at Oriel College unless it takes down its Cecil Rhodes statue, “I am half tempted to say you should be lucky not to be taught by such a useless bunch”. If they are that feeble, what are students missing? Rhodes is “not a black and white figure”, but one of “enormous generosity to Oxford”. Do they want to give the money back to his descendants or keep it for themselves? And in Cambridge, where there are calls to rename Churchill College, perhaps we should rename Cambridge as Churchill University. “That would be one in the eye for the lefties.”