Saturday, December 22, 2018


Published in Column 8 on the 30th June 1993

Once upon a time weather-forecasters’ predictions had some likelihood of coming true. Not much anymore. I suggest, disillusioned weathermen try their hand at something easier: predicting the degree of increase in the word torrent that will gush out of the Beehive prior to the coming election.

We live with an abundance of words. Walk along the streets of any city or town and you’ll be overwhelmed by words, myriad eye-catching, purse-opening, mind-arresting words. They’re an integral part of urban scenery, in greater profusion than plate-glass windows, parking meters, and closing-down sales.

After constant exposure, our brains cease to discriminate amongst the excess. Urban words have only two or three micro-seconds to make their mark before they’re consigned to the long-term memory – perhaps only ever to reappear in our dotage.

Urban words become like squabbling siblings on a shopping spree whom harassed parents try to ignore.

I’ve nothing against words, even urban ones. In fact I quite like most of them. But they tend to take over. (They’ve even hedge in on what used to be the sole province of numbers: registration plates. Now we’re more likely to see a car called SPEED than SP9876.)

Sooner or later there’s going to be a reaction against this plethora of words. Words need space, and don’t like being crunched up against each other. (Numbers cope with crunching much better.) They need time to be absorbed, and shouldn’t be flashed at us like a thousand thousand winking indicators.

For politicians to weigh down the next few months with words is unlikely to make us sit up and take notice.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
I came across a delightful story about Coleridge (the Ancient Mariner man). He tells of talking throughout dinner to a man who listened carefully to him, and said nothing. The man constantly nodded his head, and Coleridge concluded he was very intelligent.

Towards the end of the dinner, some apple dumplings were placed on the table. The man had no sooner seen them than he burst forth with – “Them’s the jockies for me!!” The Book of Proverbs makes the comment: “Even a fool when he keeps his mouth closed is considered wise.”

Politicians could learn something from that. As word-using people they should know, but don’t, that ten clear words are better than a thousand befogged ones.

The coming election makes me consider that it would be wiser for politicians to keep their mouths more closed than open in these final few months. Then their words might not embarrass them later. (How they can at present sit comfortably on their parliamentary sheepskins and not wriggle out [of] guilt when their “promises” are thrown back in their faces is beyond me.)

If they said nothing prior to election time, we might be inclined to elect them anyway – just to find out what they were going to be up to.

We’d certainly find them more truthful. People who don’t normally open their mouths can hardly be called liars when they do.

Their silence might even appear as wisdom, wisdom they wish we thought they had. To maintain this aura of sapience would require them to keep their mouths closed even after they were elected, and that could only be a good thing.

In the meantime, the parliamentary minute of silence could be extended to a good half hour each day. The sheer discipline would be beneficial to all concerned.

And the flood of obscure, ambiguous, ill-defined words might then dry up.

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