Having completed my reading of Henry Sire’s epic treatment of the liberal fascism of pope Bergoglio (the man who some people refer to as Pope Francis but I do not), and completed my three-part book review on these pages, I moved on to other matters and caught up with the concreting job inside the gate of the donkey field, watering my beans in the valley, and generally getting El Parral ready for the winter – as the summer quickly fades away and the winds and rains pick up.
Listening to Radio 4 while I took a few minutes to eat lunch before grooming the donkeys, I heard a brief news item about a policeman who had been reprimanded for using the phrase “whiter than white”. It is a common phrase, and in linguistic terms I think it may be referred to as an idiom.
In Barcelona in the early 1990s, some of us English teachers – at the end of a busy week – would meet in the Cafe Opera off the Rambla opposite the opera house and discuss finer points of English usage. The idea that the phrase “whiter than white” might have had any kind of offensive racial connotation would have been astonishing. Anyone asked about the meaning of this idiom would have said something like: “It means someone who follows the rules punctiliously, or is morally beyond reproach…” etc. The Spanish/English translation returns equivalents meaning “immaculate, innocent, virtuous, saintly“. There is, in short, no racial connotation at all.
Later I heard another news report that the policeman in question was having avery hard time indeed as a result of using this phrase that any of us would use without hesitation.
Charles Utley – whom I know only through internet correspondence but has been a great help to me and my family once – elaborated on the incident reported in the press. https://telgroup.wordpress.com/2018/09/15/is-it-too-late/ He summarised the matter in this way: “Justice is a concept which is entirely alien to the equality and diversity industry. I fear there will even be comments on this piece from “modern” people saying that the Superintendent’s career is nothing compared with the perception of some idiot that whiter than white is a racist expression which caused offence to the idiot.”
Well said, Charles. This is something which reflects the diminished linguistic skills of many people in our society today. This includes BBC presenters on the prestigious Radio 4 Today programme who do not distinguish between countable and uncountable nouns, and refer jarringly to – for example – a “large amount of people”. BBC presenters who do that, when they are paid a vast salary that many could only aspire to, should be hauled up before the language Stasi and publicly humiliated, long before such a case of a police officer using an idiom that we all once used freely, before the liberal Linguistic Inquisition arrived on the scene.
“Whiter than white is racist? I didn’t expect the Linguistic Inquisition!”
“Nobody expects the Linguistic Inquisition!”
Given the extremism produced by Brexit and the virtual civil war that exists between people of opposing views in the Britain of 2018, I would imagine that individual linguistic self-censorship will be the key to survival after March 2019. The already overcrowded prisons will in future be full of people who accidentally use some offensive Eurozone expression, like zeitgeist or semiologie, and find themselves surrounded by a baying crowd demanding to know why these offensive European terms are still in existence if we have truly “taken back control” of our borders.
God help you. As an expat I await the bureaucratic process to gain my Spanish passport and citizenship. For the moment we are free of this political language nonsense here in Spain, but it will inevitably filter down one day, just as the bad behaviour of children in schools finally arrived here five years ago, like a tsunami… or tidal wave as we used to call a tsunami, but now that term is offensive as it was geographically wrong and the Mediterranean has no tides anyway.
God save us from literalism.