Posts Tagged ‘the independent’

gérard de nerval, france, ,cliche, romantic

The French writer and poet Gérard de Nerval, who died in 1855, may have unintentionally defined a cliché when he said ‘The first man who compared woman to a rose was a poet; the second, an imbecile.’

Salvador Dalí, the Spanish surrealist painter, was reputed to have said ‘The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot’, though something like this was first coined by the French poet Gérard de Nerval. What Dali was getting at was that a phrase can be striking at first but when overused it loses its force.

And when an expression or idea, which at some earlier time was considered meaningful or novel, is overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, then it becomes a cliché, a ready-made phrase. In private or informal conversation they are used all the time: ’24/7′, ‘absolutely’, ‘actually’, ‘at the end of the day’, ‘basically’, ‘I hear what you’re saying’, ‘if the truth be told’, ‘I’m not being funny but’, ‘it’s not rocket science’, ‘literally’, ‘no problem’, ‘the fact of the matter is’, ‘to be perfectly honest’, ‘you know what I mean’. Clichés pop up everywhere: in the supermarket, in soap operas, in fashion, in sport, on dating websites, on book covers, with art critics and travel writers. And in organisations, the close cousins of the cliché, the jargon and gibberish of ‘corporate speak’, is omnipotent.

Though clichés should be avoided, in reality they’re not. The language of Britain is the language of cliché. The British people could speak in cliché till the cows come home. And it is in journalism where clichés stick out like a sore thumb.

newspaper, title, daily express, daily mail, daily mirror, the sun, the independent, the times, the telegraph, the guardianThey may be part of a seemingly unchangeable news culture, and we may like them, and they can be descriptive, but clichés show a lack of originality. And they’re not just over-used phrases. They can be used to disguise a lack of information, as padding, or as a code or euphemism to imply something that can’t be said or which can be left to us to work out. They are often cynical, and sometimes comical. Above all journalists want their stories to be more exciting, meaningful or profound than they really are. So, cynical or not, here’s some reading between the lines …

Reporting

According to published reports We got scooped
Allegedly We know he did it but we have to protect our backs
Clamour We’ve written an editorial. If we write about it again, refer to a ‘growing clamour
Considering The all-purpose unfalsifiable policy story as in ‘the Minister is considering whether to ditch the policy’. No one will ever be able to convincingly deny that they’re considering something
Couldn’t be reached for comment The reporter didn’t call until after 5pm
Deepened What happened to people’s difficulties last night
Exclusive We were the only ones who returned the press office calls
Exclusive neighbourhood/school/club The reporter couldn’t get in
Influential Any group that can get a letter printed in a national paper, or someone who has appeared on television twice in one week
Informed source Reads the newspaper
Momentum is building The story hasn’t changed since last night
Mystery surrounds Tomorrow the mystery might ‘deepen‘ but right now, we don’t have a clue what’s going on
Outpouring of support, emotion We are with them, so long as things don’t get out of hand
Reportedly We stole this bit of information
Set to Might mean ‘will’, but if it turns out the story is wrong, you can say it only actually means ‘may’
Shocking revelation Leaked on a slow news day
Special investigation A normal investigation, but with a picture by-line for the reporter
Stunned Couldn’t give a decent quote
Uncertain, unclear, unknown No one will tell us
Uproar The reaction of the ‘Great British Public‘ to a mindless tweet
Well placed source Someone who will talk to us

Politics

About turn Any change of mind. May be followed by ‘it’s back to the drawing board
Activist Will talk to the press
Acolytes Supporters of someone with whom we disagree.
Arcane rules Ones we can’t be bothered to explain
Bolthole Place where a disgraced MP (or rock star) seeks refuge from the media. Never a house, flat or hotel room
Brutal dictator One who kills his opponents slowly. If he just had them all shot, use ‘ruthless dictator‘. If our government could easily ‘topple him‘, but can’t be bothered, use ‘tinpot dictator‘.
Concerned residents Residents usually are
Draconian The Government is proposing something with which we disagree
Embattled He/she should quit
Family values Right wing idiot (also Progressive Left wing idiot)
Hard-working people As opposed to everyone who hasn’t a job, except pensioners of course
Humiliating U-turn Any adjustment in policy, especially over parking charges
Landmark decision Not sure why, but that’s what the other papers are saying
Moderate Fence-sitter
Parking expose Editor got a parking ticket
Raft The standard unit of ‘measures‘. Under the imperial system, a ‘cocktail of measures
Red-faced What council ‘bosses‘ usually are after a ‘humiliating U-turn
Troubled Small country currently enjoying a lull between civil wars
Trusted source An MP out for revenge or a government stooge, but often someone vaguely connected with politics in a Westminster bar
Venerable Should be dead but isn’t

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spencer perceval, prime minister, assassination, house of commons

The assassination of the Prime Minister Spencer Perceval in the lobby of the House of Commons on 11 May 1812

Just over two hundred years ago, on 11 May 1812, John Bellingham, a Liverpool businessman shot dead the Rt Hon Spencer Perceval, the Prime Minister at the time, as he entered the House of Commons. Spencer Perceval is the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated.

At 5.15 on the evening of Monday 11 May 1812, it being a fine evening, Spencer Perceval walked from 10 Downing Street to the Houses of Parliament to attend a debate in the House of Commons. The debate was to rescind the ‘orders in council’ that prevented nations trading with France. These were the chief plank in Perceval’s policy for the defeat of Napoleon.

Outside of the lobby to the House of Commons Perceval handed his coat to the officer positioned outside the doors, but as he entered the lobby a man who had been sat near the fireplace, stepped forward, and without saying a word drew a pistol and shot Perceval in the chest. Perceval fell to the floor, after uttering something that was variously heard as ‘murder’ or ‘oh my God’. They were his last words. By the time he had been carried into the nearby office of the Speaker’s secretary and propped up on a table, he was senseless, although there was still a faint pulse. When a surgeon, William Lynn, arrived from Great George Street a few minutes later, the pulse had stopped, and Perceval was declared dead. The surgeon noted a wound three inches deep on the left side of the chest over the fourth rib where a large pistol ball had entered.

Perceval’s body was taken back to 10 Downing Street, and on the following morning an inquest was held at the Cat and Bagpipes public house on the corner of Downing Street, and a verdict of wilful murder was returned.

spencer perceval, prime minister, george francis joseph

Spencer Perceval
British Prime Minister
4 October 1809–11 May 1812
Born 1 November 1762
Painting by George Francis Joseph, 1812
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Spencer Perceval, the younger son of an Irish earl, was 49 at the time of his death and had been Prime Minister under George III (and the Prince Regent during the ‘madness’ of George III) since 4 October 1809. He was a follower of William Pitt (the previous Prime Minister but one), but described himself as a ‘friend of Mr Pitt’ rather than a Tory. Perceval was opposed to Catholic emancipation and reform of Parliament; he supported the war against Napoleon and the abolition of the slave trade. He was opposed to hunting, gambling and adultery, did not drink as much as most Members of Parliament, gave generously to charity, and enjoyed spending time with his wife Jane and their twelve children.

Perceval’s assassin did not attempt to escape from the House of Commons but calmly returned to his seat beside the fireplace. Sir Banastre Tarleton and Isaac Gascoyne, the two MPs for Liverpool, identified the man as John Bellingham, a merchant from Liverpool. The details of his story soon began to emerge. Bellingham had been imprisoned for debt in the port of Archangel in Russia in 1804 and had been held in various prisons for the next 5 years. The debt had been alleged by the owner of a Russian ship that had sunk in the White Sea, who believed that Bellingham had told Lloyd’s, the shipping insurers, that the loss of the ship was actually sabotage. During his time in prison, Bellingham had pleaded unsuccessfully with the British ambassador in St Petersburg and with British authorities for help with his case. On his release in 1809, he returned to England full of resentment. Bellingham believed the government was morally bound to compensate him for his loss of business. He petitioned the Foreign Secretary, the Treasury, the Privy Council, the Prime Minister, even the Prince Regent, all to no avail, the main reason being that Britain had broken off diplomatic relations with Russia in November 1808. Once again Bellingham felt that he was being ignored. Finally, he decided that the only way for him to get a hearing in court was to shoot the Prime Minister.

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In the Independent today, there’s a story of a supermarket checkout assistant at the Sainsbury’s Crayford store in south-east London being ‘hailed as a heroine after striking a blow for modern manners by refusing to serve a shopper who was talking on her phone’. Speaking after the incident, the shopper, Jo Clarke, a property manager, said about the checkout assistant ‘I couldn’t believe how rude she was. When did she have the right to give me a lecture on checkout etiquette? I won’t be shopping there again. I’ll go to Waitrose instead’

Not suprisingly, Sainsbury’s felt obliged to apologise to the customer saying that it was not company policy to refuse service to people on mobile phones, and gave Ms Clarke vouchers to compensate for her treatment. But social media sites and internet forums were enraged that the store had caved in, and the public appeared to be rallying round the checkout worker.

One could say a great deal about this incident, and its irony, but what struck me was the checkout assistant being hailed as a heroine.

Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, Postman's Park, City of London

Tablet erected in memory of Alice Ayres in the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice in Postman’s Park, Little Britain, City of London.
This is one of 54 memorial tablets erected on a covered wall in the park, as a record of ordinary people who died saving the lives of others and who might otherwise have been forgotten.

A hero or heroine  in Greek mythology and folklore, was originally a demigod, the son or daughter from one immortal and one mortal parent. Later, hero, or heroine, came to refer to characters who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self-sacrifice – that is, heroism – for some greater good of all humanity. This definition originally referred to martial courage or excellence, but extended to more general moral excellence. In a dictionary, the first definition is invariably one that defines hero as a person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life. But there are other definitions: someone who fights for a cause, someone who can be looked up to for their actions, a person noted for special achievement in a particular field, or who is idealized for possessing superior qualities in any field, or just someone who an individual admires or idolises very much. And of course the main character in a story, play, film, who is usually good, is often portrayed as a hero who, despite the odds being stacked against him or her, typically prevails in the end.

Myself, I prefer the hero who is brave in the face of danger or adversity, who fights for a cause for the benefit of others, as opposed to someone who is successful in their field, or who has influence, wealth, or fame. In the latter case, musicians, singers, sports people, TV personalities, royalty, are often idolised by fans and commentators and described as heroes, as are some inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs, unorthodox business people, and populist politicians. But to me, none of these groups are being brave in the face of danger or standing up for a cause with little regard for the consequences.

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The lost counties of Britain

The lost counties of Britain

There was an interesting feature in The Independent on 24 April 2013. It said that ‘Eric Pickles, the MP, chose St George’s Day to encourage the return of Britain’s ancient, lost counties’. Headed ‘Geography’ the feature had an attractive map of the UK with fifteen ‘lost counties’ identified, such as Brecknockshire, Middlesex, Sutherland, Westmorland, with some facts, in circles, about each of them.

One ‘lost county’ shown was Rutland. Unfortunately county status was restored to Rutland in 1997, having been part of Leicestershire for the previous twenty years. Rutland is and always has been the smallest historic county in England – first mentioned as a separate county in 1159 – so its inhabitants will not take kindly to the idea of their county being ‘lost’.

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