Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Sometimes it is the little things

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I was planning to give you a rest from politics for today. I know it is the thrilling launch of the Conservative manifesto, in which power will, marvellously, be handed to The People, but my brain is tired and we shall turn to that tremendous document tomorrow.

I cannot resist, however, guiding you towards the fun that some of the columnists are having with Labour's vision of the next five years. Harry Mount, over at The Telegraph, is not so much affronted by the policies as wounded by the horrid use of English. It is not only a basic illiteracy that so offends him - principle for principal, less for fewer - but also a nasty tendency to lapse into meaningless jargon. 'Secondary schools: excellence for all, personal to each' certainly goes into my personal hall of infamy. The management-speak dooms this promise to vapidity. It also fails to meet my own political sniff test. When a politician mouths a slogan, I judge it against its opposite. Would anyone ever say: Secondary schools: lack of excellence for all, impersonal to each? (Labour's election slogan also falters on this mark. 'A Future Fair for All' as opposed, presumably, to a future unfair for all, or a future fair for the chosen few.)

The glorious John Rentoul at The Indy picks up the baton and runs with it. He doffs his hat to Mount's grammatical objections, and adds his own:
"Referenda, held on the same day, for moving to the Alternative Vote for elections to the House of Commons and to a democratic and accountable Second Chamber." That is "referendums"; referendum is an English word; we do not put it in italics; as the plural of forum is not fora and the plural of bottom is not ba.

'The plural of bottom is not ba' is my runaway favourite sentence printed in a national newspaper today.

I also commend the restrained Mr Rentoul for concentrating his fire on the incorrect use of 'referenda' and not pointing out the sheer ugliness of that alternative vote sentence. Clarity, clarity and yet more clarity is my daily writing cry. I think we should all play around with the language; that is what it is there for. It is not a grave thing set in granite. Grammatical rules may be bent for amusement; antic prose is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. (As you see, I don't mind the odd platitude either.) Obfuscation, on the other hand, should be taken out and shot. I had to read the line about the alternative vote twice before I was sure what it meant. There is no excuse for that, when the entire nation's future is at stake.

And now, my darlings, I am going to do something radical. I am taking the day off. At the moment, I am working seven days a week, except, of course, for the occasional naughty afternoon spent watching the racing. I have 25,000 words and pages of notes for the new book, but my panicking mind chants: not enough, not enough. Sarah says that I must take a deep breath, calm down, and have a little rest. I love it when she says things like that. It is the absolute joy of having a co-writer. The great thing about writing a book with a partner is the obvious advantage of two brains instead of one. Sarah's mind takes up where mine leaves off; she knows things I do not; she sees the world from a slightly different angle. But sometimes I think that her very greatest talent is that she knows exactly how to stop me running mad.

Picture of the Day comes courtesy of Paul Waugh's excellent politics blog:

Daily Express

Could you ever, in your whole wide life, imagine any newspaper saying, of Harold Wilson, or Winston Churchill, or Tony Blair, or John Major, or James Callaghan, or Gordon Brown, or Edward Heath: Give the BOY a chance?

PS For those of you who kindly asked after dear Virginia the Pig, she is still hanging on. She has had much penicillin and seemed a bit perkier this morning when I took her some pig nuts. I keep my fingers crossed, but the vet is not hopeful.

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