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Tag: Brexit

Brexit and Jarndyce

Tuesday, 14 November, 2017 0 Comments

Like Jarndyce and Jarndyce the case of Brexit and Brexit drones on and on and on. Will it conclude with the British electorate being forced to the polls for an other referendum? Two referendums should do it, unless there’s a dispute about the correct English plural form of the word, that is. The singular, by the way, is a variant of the Latin word referre ‘to refer’ and it means ‘a thing that must be referred to the people’. And some things, such as the choice between freedom and enslavement, must be referred to the people.

This vexed question made news in June 1988, during a House of Commons debate, when the late Alan Clark, Tory MP for Kensington and Chelsea, asked for a ruling on the matter. He said he was prompted to do so because he had previously been called to order for “using the language of the common market.” His point, he said, was that he had “heard on many occasions colleagues refer to referendums — which is an exceedingly ugly term.” Clark, who was fond of the gerundive, wanted to know whether the Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, would “prefer us to continue to use the Latin word, or whether you have no objection to the continued Anglicisation of this term.” Madam Speaker replied:

“I do notice on the Public Bill List that the word referendums for Scotland and Wales is used there. The word referendum was first used in English 150 years ago, according to the Oxford English dictionary which I’ve just been able to refer to. So I imagine after 150 years the House will be quite used to it now. I think the plural is a matter of taste but I’ve always preferred the use of the English language to any Latin form if that is of some guidance.”

Now’s the time to get agreement on the plural form of ‘referendum’ because we’re going to need it.


Trump week

Monday, 16 January, 2017 0 Comments

And it kicks off “mit einem Paukenschlag” (spectacularly), as our German friends say. President-elect Trump tells Bild, well, the truth. “You look at the European Union and it’s Germany. Basically a vehicle for Germany. That’s why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out.” Ouch!

He emphasized that he is going to be a tough trans-Atlantic partner, threatening to slap a 35% import tax on BMW cars if the Munich-based company sticks with its plan to build a factory in Mexico. He also blamed the decision of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to welcome refugees from the Middle East and Africa, for endangering the stability of Europe. Snippet:

“I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody even knows where they come from.

People, countries, want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. But I do believe this: if they hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it … entails, I think that you wouldn’t have a Brexit.”

Obama is history and his legacy is, in a word, Trump.

Bild Trump


The inspired choice of Brexit as Word of the Year

Friday, 4 November, 2016 0 Comments

A few hours after the Collins Dictionary had named “Brexit” its Word of the Year yesterday, the High Court in London ruled that Britain cannot start the process of leaving the European Union without a vote in parliament. Clearly, Brexit is a word that will not go away in the foreseeable future. Or ever, perhaps.

Brexit Brexit means “the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union” and the word became popular as the UK headed towards June’s historic referendum. In fact, lexicographers recorded an upsurge of more than 3,400 per cent in its use this year — an increase unheard of since Collins began monitoring word usage.

Collins says “Brexit is arguably politics’ most important contribution to the English language in over 40 years, since the Watergate scandal gave commentators and comedians the suffix ‘-gate’ to make any incident or scandal infinitely more compelling.” Brexit is far more elastic than Watergate, though, because not only does it sum up the result of one of the most dramatic events in British political history, it has inspired terms such as “Bremain”, “Bremorse”, “hard Brexit” and, of course, Grexit. Note: It has also been adapted to describe unrelated events coming to an end, such as “Mexit” for Lionel Messi’s someday retirement. God forbid!


The abnormal Trump and the normal Clinton

Tuesday, 20 September, 2016 0 Comments

Writing in USA TODAY, Michael Wolff declares: Abnormal Trump catches up to normal Clinton. Drawing a parallel with Britain the recent Brexit campaign, Wolff notes: “A vote to have Britain exit the European Union was a vote against the organizational norm that’s created a functioning and prosperous society and in favor of the unknown. And that’s exactly what 52% of Britons promptly, and for the other 48% inexplicably, voted for.” This, argues Wolff, puts Mrs Clinton in tricky position:

“Although the Remain side ran as a stalwart of the norm, it chose not to defend it or certainly to promote it. It merely warned of the ghastly consequences of its loss. Similarly, the Clinton campaign has rather turned the presidential race into a straight up referendum between the norm (and, hence, an acceptance of much of what you are currently dissatisfied with) and something outside it. Indeed, Clinton has no real calling card except being anti-abnormal Trump.

Trump’s calling card is, of course, being Trump, precisely an alternative to the norm.”

The liberal incomprehension about what’s going in this presidential campaign “has to do with the logical fallacy of comparing the normal to the abnormal,” says Wolff. Will abnormal become the new normal? The polls suggest that, as in Britain, there’s an appetite for a new norm as the abnormal Trump catches up to the normal Clinton.


A cheery Spectator and a glum Prospect

Monday, 22 August, 2016 0 Comments

At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Great Britain won 15 medals, including a solitary gold. Team GB finished 36th in the medal table that year. This year, Great Britain finished second in the table, ahead of China, with 67 medals, 27 of which were gold. The greatest credit for this achievement is due to the athletes, but Sir John Major, whose Conservative government set up the National Lottery in 1994, is central to their success. The Lottery started funding athletes in 1997, the so they could train full-time and, by 2004, Team GB’s medal tally had doubled to 30, doubling again at London in 2012.

Andrew Marr credits John Major in his Spectator diary entry written in sunny Dubrovnik amid crowds of contented Croats and tourists. “Team GB is a near-perfect post-Brexit idea” says Marr, inspired by it all and hoping for happy days:

“Imagine a Britain which had seriously invested for the long term, focusing only on industries and technologies where we were likely to be world-class; and where ‘company’ was used in the old sense of being a tight, committed team of friends and allies working together for a goal many years in the future. It would be a Britain shorn of short-term political lurches in funding and direction, whose corporate leaders had a lively sense of how much they owed to their teams and didn’t treat themselves as Medici princelings.”

Prospect But all that is gold does not glisten. Well, not for the “remoaners”, anyway. With a most unfortunate sense of timing, Prospect depicts Team GB stuck on a self-imposed, starting line in its race for a place in the world. Jay Elwes, Deputy Editor of Prospect, argues: “…there is a strong case that Britain’s new settlement with the EU should be put to a further vote. As the economic threat posed by Brexit grows ever more apparent, so the need for parliamentary intervention will increase. Britain needs a new plan — in the end, a decision by the Commons not to proceed with Brexit might turn out to be the best plan of all.”

After a summer of gold for spectators, disgruntled remoaners are hoping for the prospect of a winter of discontent and an un-Brexit.


English: Going nowhere and everywhere

Wednesday, 13 July, 2016 0 Comments

Andrew Linn is Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Westminster. He studied English and Modern Languages at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and he was Professor of the History of Linguistics and successively Head of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Sheffield. So, he should know what he’s talking about, then, when it comes to the future of the English.

Britain may be leaving the EU, but English is going nowhere” was the title of his article that appeared in The Conversation (motto: “Academic rigour, journalistic flair”) on 4 July. A week later, it was given a wider platform when it was published by Quartz, the global business news website of the Atlantic Media Company. This time, it had a different title: “English is and will be the lingua franca of Europe in spite of Brexit.”

Was the headline change prompted by the, er, Atlantic divide? Or because of literal and figurative incomprehension? Let’s look at the language and the meaning of go nowhere.

Confusion arises because the phrases “going nowhere” and “not going anywhere” have literal and figurative meanings. In the figurative sense, both can mean “not changing” or “not making progress.” Example: “His career in Brussels is going nowhere.” Meaning: He’s not climbing the greasy ladder at Eurocrat HQ. But here’s where it gets tricky: “not going anywhere” can have the same meaning as “going nowhere”. Example: “His career in Brussels is not going anywhere now, thanks to those chavs in Sunderland.”

But “not going anywhere” can also mean “constantly in existence.” Example: “Theresa, you know you can count on me here in Brussels. I’m not going anywhere.” Meaning: I’m in the Berlaymont building and I’m staying here to support you during this nasty Article 50 business, no matter how long it takes.

Keep Calm As regards the content of the dual-headlined piece, that will be the subject of another post, but one thing requires addressing right away. Andrew Linn writes: “The preponderance of English has nothing to do with the influence of Britain…” This is daft as it suggests modern British culture, from The Beatles to Monty Python to J.K. Rowling to Idris Elba, plays no role when English is being taught in Munich, Dakar or Lima. English is everywhere now and the the influence of Britain is key to understanding why this is so and why so many of its teachers draw upon certain models that affect how learners acquire the language and absorb the prestige that makes it so attractive. The influence of Britain, like the soft power of Miss Marple or James Bond, is global, linguistically, whatever about politically, diplomatically or militarily.


Brexit: The Big Decision

Friday, 8 July, 2016 0 Comments

The poem Che fece… il gran rifiuto has appeared in publications with the title translated simply as “The Big Decision.” C. P. Cavafy took the heading from Dante’s Inferno and the original couplet refers to the decision of Pope Celestine V to abdicate the Papacy in 1294 and allow Dante’s enemy, Pope Boniface VIII, to gain power:

Vidi e conobbi l’ombra di colui
che fece per viltade il gran rifiuto.

(I saw and I knew the soul of him,
who cowardly made the great refusal.)

A fortnight on from the historic Brexit referendum that resulted in an overall vote for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, that Big Decision has upended British politics and sent shockwaves around the globe. Deciding to declare “the great Yes or the great No” has consequences, whether in the 13th or the 21st century, says Cavafy.

Che fece… il gran rifiuto

For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It’s clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,

he goes from honour to honour, strong in his conviction.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he’d still say No. Yet that no — the right no —
drags him down all his life.

C. P. Cavafy (1863 — 1933)


Tyler Cowen: Why Brexit happened

Wednesday, 6 July, 2016 0 Comments

“This vote was the one lever the English were given for sending a message to their politicians,” says Tyler Cowen, the American economist, academic and writer. He describes himself as “pro Remain, and also generally pro immigration,” but he admits that the desire of the Leave voters to preserve the English nation “as English” was stronger than he had thought. Why Brexit happened and what it means is one of the more reasoned pieces written on the referendum and Cowen is to be credited for acknowledging a truth that many “Londonists” refuse to accept:

“Quite simply, the English want England to stay relatively English, and voting Leave was the instrument they were given. That specific cultural attachment is not for Irish-American me, no, I feel no sentiment, other than perhaps good humor, when someone offers me ‘a lovely biscuit,’ or when a small book shop devotes an entire section to gardening, but yes I do get it at some level. And some parts of the older England I do truly love and I am talking the Beatles and Monty Python and James Bond here, not just the ancients like Trollope or Edmund Spenser.”

Cowen is on the money when he notes that voting Leave was “the instrument” people were given for sending a message to the UK’s leaders, and many Americans, frustrated with their political system and how it has been corrupted by the political professionals, will have taken note, no doubt. Donald Trump is the instrument being offered to US voters in November for expressing their rage with Washington and some will choose it and use it despite many of the warnings being expressed by his opponents. Given the opportunity, those who feel excluded and ignored are sending the message.


The chavs vs. the guardians

Sunday, 26 June, 2016 0 Comments

The shockwaves from the decision on Thursday by a majority of UK voters to leave the European Union continue to reverberate. The governing Tory party was bitterly divided on the issue before the campaign and now the aftermath turmoil is ripping the Labour party apart. Collateral damage has been caused to language, too.

In a result that was driven by contempt for the establishment, demands to restore sovereignty and fear of mass migration, puzzled pundits have been looking for explanations. This is trickier than it sounds because it’s clear that the majority vote for leave was made possible by those who live outside London. What to call these people? We’re in tippy-toe area here because many in the commentariat would like to say the leavers are “English” in a manner that implies “little Englanders,” but the Welsh voted for leave as well, so a bigger umbrella is needed. Behind the hand, racist and populist and all the other pejoratives are being thrown around, but they cannot be used in public as they say almost as much about the speaker as the subject.

Chav gear Here’s a solution: chav. And before people reach for the off button, consider this: “Chavs are supposed to wear a lot of flashy jewellery, white trainers, baseball caps, sham designer clothes. Girls expose a lot of midriff. Nothing racial about it all, I should say.” So says linguistics expert David Crystal. They live mainly on council estates in middle England and they love their telly and tabloids, do the chavs. Perfect.

And those who opted to remain? How about guardians? They wanted to guard Britain’s membership of the European Union more than their own union, and the Guardian newspaper is their intellectual platform. London is their base and they consider themselves post-national. But as Megan McArdle points out in ‘Citizens of the World’? Nice Thought, But …:

Journalists and academics seemed to feel that they had not made it sufficiently clear that people who oppose open borders are a bunch of racist rubes who couldn’t count to 20 with their shoes on, and hence will believe any daft thing they’re told. Given how badly this strategy had just failed, this seemed a strange time to be doubling down. But perhaps, like the fellow I once saw lose a packet by betting on 17 for 20 straight turns of the roulette wheel, they reasoned that the recent loss actually makes a subsequent victory more likely, since the number has to come up sometime.

In the referendum on Thursday, the chavs voted and the guardians tweeted. Now, the guardians are petitioning. That’s the difference. Or, put another way:


English referee: Wales in, Northern Ireland out

Saturday, 25 June, 2016 1 Comment

Norn IronWe’re talking football, here, not referendum results. This evening in Parc des Princes in Paris, Wales and Northern Ireland are set for an historic meeting as they each attempt to reach their first European Championship quarter-final. Given the backstory of the players, the football on offer will be will be more like that seen in Premier League fixture, rather than a continental style game and, keeping it in the family, as it were, the match has an English referee in Martin Atkinson.

Wales Wales have a trump card in Gareth Bale, the world’s most expensive footballer. With a goal in each group match he is tied with Spain’s Álvaro Morata as the tournament’s joint top scorer on three, one ahead of his Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo. The prediction here is that after Martin Atkinson blows the final whistle, Bale’s Wales will be in and Northern Ireland out of the competition.

It was a different story with Thursday’s EU referendum. The Leave side won in Wales, where 52.5% voters chose to depart the EU, compared with 47.5% supporting Remain. Northern Ireland, on the other hand, voted to stay in the EU by a majority of 56% to 44%.


#Brexit: Words fail

Friday, 24 June, 2016 0 Comments

The anthem of the European Union is based on the final movement of the Symphony No. 9 in D minor by Ludwig van Beethoven. His famous Ode to Joy was inspired by the 1783 poem by Friedrich Schiller, which says the kind of romantic things that German Romanticism said: “Alle Menschen werden Brüder / Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.” (All people become brothers / Where your gentle wing abides).

“There are no words to the anthem; it consists of music only,” says the EU, which deleted the message and reduced the lyric to a nebulous, insipid sentiment.

It’s an ode to less today.