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OK UK?: Sorry, Did I Just Insult You?
I'm So Sorry...
One of the greatest differences between the body politic in the USA and the UK is the language. American rhetoric is direct, blunt and careful not to use words above a sixth grade vocabulary. British rhetoric has always been multi layered and peppered liberally with surgically precise wit. It has become less clever, of late, more (shudder) American, but it is still deeply entrenched in our national ethos.
A simple, but highly illustrative, example is how the Members of Parliament address each other. The rule (enforced) is to address each other as The Honorable.. . It could be the honorable gentleman, lady, member for Upper Puddlington, but honor is due, and without undue sarcasm. Uncivil discourse is met by a chorus of boos and shouts of "shame", which sounds childish, but is effective in creating immediate censure. It is the political equivalent of the common qualifier "bless him" or "bless his little cotton socks" in regular use by the grandmothers of England. The phrase is tacked on to a rather more harsh observation, such as, "Oh, the man is a total moron, bless him".
So, rather than "you are an idiot and completely wrong" which would be drowned out by the noise from the rest of the assembly, a more, um, gentile version would be crafted...
"It would appear that the honorable member of the opposition is not in full command of his faculties today, so, sadly, his factual misrepresentations have become an embarrassing insult to the collective intelligence of the fellow members of this house. One can only hope for an immediate reconsideration of this position."
Ouch, but not so much, right?
And, it makes for spectacular sound bites.
You can almost enjoy, "Sadly, discussions have broken down with the honorable gentleman opposite due to unforeseen medical issues. They will continue once my colleague retains the services of an eminent proctologist."
Yes, he just said his head was up his ass.
Or, what about, "Our meeting was reasonably productive, though without the intervention of a Dr. Doolittle it is unlikely that further progress can be made." which simply means "I can't talk to this animal."
The advantage of this grandiloquence is that it is unlikely to inflame anyone with less than a university education, and ensures that the common man remains comfortably outside the political arena.
This points out a further difference between our two countries. In England, only a very few regular people actually care about politics. In fact, the only people who care are newspaper editors and a couple of pundits. The majority will vote when the time comes, but since it is almost compulsory to vote as your parent's did, there is not a lot of thinking involved. The so called "chattering classes" will give themselves verbal paroxysms at dinner parties, but would be restrained from doing anything about anything, by a combination of manners and cowardice. In any case, their expertise lies in talking, not doing.
In America there is a great deal more passion about politics amongst regular “folk”. Still mostly chatter, but with twenty-four-hour talk radio hosts and TV pundits spewing vitriol and ignorance into the minds of the aforementioned regular folks, every now and then, someone, somewhere, will interpret that as a call to action.
I am primarily a humor writer, and wish to tread lightly in areas that cannot, and should not, be trivialized. But, there is a world of difference between what a rather irate gent with a furled umbrella, and a guy with an assault weapon, can do.
Now, it is true that the Brits can overdo it, and as my mother would say, "be too clever by half," but just as good manners and restraint can be the oil that smoothes the friction of disagreement, so too can humor.
The wit blunts the attack, the point is made, but it is somehow less personal.
The antithesis of wit is to be found in many blog responses (fortunately not hub pages), which often devolve into crude personal attacks with expletives used throughout as verbs, nouns, and adjectives. I have been shocked at some of the comments following the most innocent of articles or videos. Is this what happens to discourse when the illusory mask of anonymity comes into play? And, is this how people really feel, or is it just the verbal equivalent of punching the wall in anger?
I feel fortunate to have found a forum where civil discourse is the norm, because it is natural and normal to disagree, and I suspect, very important for the health of society. I do, however, take issue with certain self-proclaimed “plain speakers”. Forthright can be admirable, but rude is still rude. Try a little diplomacy, inject a little humor, and please be self-effacing if proven wrong.
Some of the worst examples of inappropriate rhetoric can be found in negative political campaigning. The idea that two people, from the same political party, can publicly tear into each other, so that one can then stand against the opposition, seems counter intuitive. Rational people do not have that short of an attention span. Having claimed that your opponent in the primary was a baby-eating terrorist, you now expect his supporters to rally to your camp to defeat a similarly savaged person from the other party? Really?
Take a lesson from American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. People love to vote for something.
Now, I recognize that there may be some who hold views tangential to mine. Their lack of perspicacity is unfortunate, as that first step, well meaning, but misguided, forces them onto a path of ever increasing incorrectness. Once imbued of that false certainty, it is unlikely that redirection is possible. However, I am not one to mock the unfortunate or afflicted but would rather offer them sanctuary from ridicule in the generous embrace of my ideas and opinions.
So much nicer than “You are wrong, you moron, so just agree with me!”
And yes, I had to use a dictionary…
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