This morning I listened to the increasingly hysterical John Humphrys do his increasingly silly anti-Iraq war thing on the Today programme on Radio 4. After two Iraqi academics had repeatedly told us that the Americans had done “Nothing. Nothing!” for the Iraqi people, John had a rant at the UK diplomatic representative in Baghdad, Jeremy Greenstock, who responded in the measured way we associate with the crusty British establishment. He did sound a little exasperated when, by turns, Humphrys angrily accused him of denying various “facts on the ground” and Greenstock mildly admitted them. [If you have RealPlayer installed, you can listen to the interview from the Today site.]
What’s interesting to me is how JH’s views are beginning to part from upmarket media received opinion. Even other journalists at the Beeb seem to have changed their line lately, to the extent that occasionally they spin news in the US’s favour.
John Humphrys rants here in The Guardian about the decline in standards of English. His piece contains the following clichés:
- “those were the days”,
- “a trickle that became a torrent”,
- “Many battles have been lost, but the war is not yet over”,
- “guarded day and night”,
- “hoisting the white flag and surrendering”,
- “He spoke from the heart and not the head”, and
- “the evolutionary wheel will have turned full circle”.
Later in his text you can marvel at this redundancy:
“It is powerful and it is potent”
and this clanger:
“He should have had him thrown out of the building on the spot”
Here’s another extract from that essay, John:
But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
It’s Rule Number One, Johnny boy! Try not to break it again. And if your colleagues are getting you down by suggesting that you might have been wrong on the Great Issue of Our Day, remember: “Many battles have been lost, but the war is not yet over”.