War on language? Or cooking the books?

Some minor skirmishes and broken shins on the field of language: Cicero, Wittgenstein, Kant and marketeers.

Michael Gove
Mr Gove - or...

Cookery books
...cookery books? See below....

Steve Bell in today’s Guardian comments on the confusion about whether Gaddafi is a ‘target’ in the current action over Libya. I’ll leave that to the commentariat and offer instead a few minor skirmishes on the fringes of the linguistic battlefield:

  • A new quango limps into life Yesterday, the recruitment site for the Standards and Testing Agency Executive had ‘Lorem Ipsum… Find out more’ on its home page; sadly, they’ve now corrected this charming touch, thereby removing what, I have been fascinated to discover, is a (kind of) quotation from Cicero: ‘Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself’. (Rhetoric again: there seem at present to be plenty of people anxious to pursue pain – oh, wait a minute, it’s the poor what get the pain.) This quango is, after all, supposed to be about standards….
  • Labeling and gaming Yesterday’s print edition of the Media Guardian had an advertisement from the Marketing Agencies Association headed ‘Life’s a game that marketers need to start playing’. The call-out quotation spelt labeled the American way: is that what marketers do, or this part of the war on language? Of course, the marketing people haven’t found anything new; as Ludwig Wittgenstein said many years ago, language is a game of two halves.
  • Brave marketeers Talking of alternative spellings, marketers are sometimes called marketeers, which makes them sound rather brave, dashing and – by association with buccaneers and privateers – also cavalier, irresponsible and untrustworthy. Thanks, as ever, to the OED, I learn that marketeer goes back to least 1665. It also helpfully tells me that ‘in many of the words so formed there is a more or less contemptuous implication, as in crotcheteer, garreteer, pamphleteer, pulpiteer, sonneteer.’
  • Pure Kant? In Sunday’s Observer Christopher Bray provides an upmarket example of the put-down rhetorical question:

    Kant isn’t much fun either, of course, but which of us would deny the certainty-subverting genius of the “first critique”?

    Come on, hands up: which of us?

  • Cooking the books? One from the literature front: today’s Telegraph reports Michael Gove’s latest wheeze: ‘pupils should read 50 books a year’. Splendid! But why did the paper choose to illustrate this with an image of old cookery books, one ironically titled Modern Cookery? Is Mikey cooking the books again? Does he want a generation of cooks and scullery maids? The Secretary of State himself appears on a second version of this same story on the Telegraph website, pulling that face of his (‘Yes, this is a bit of joke, but what larks!’). He’s not actually holding any books either, just a clutch of files – probably containing cunning plans to take us forward to the age of Nigel Molesworth. It seems the Telegraph marketeers are intent on gaming with their content.

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