Short words are the best
OK, forgive me if this puts a few noses out of joint, but I have an axe to grind, Eugene.
There has been a very interesting discussion on Bright Green prompted by Adam’s post about feminism. I’m sure all of it was very interesting but frankly a lot of it was so hidden under layers of hideously put together political verbiage that frankly I couldn’t be sure that I’d properly understood whole swathes of it.
It’s a shame really because one of the points I did get, because the contributor was kind enough to put it in plain English, was that men should as a first step educate themselves about feminism.
Well said. Feminism, women’s rights, call it what you will, is about a real fundamental. There are six billion plus people on this little planet of ours and just over half (I believe) are on what is generally the worse end of a power imbalance between men and women while the other half is (quite often unthinkingly and unintentionally) in the wrong.
It’s a big issue. It affects almost all of us.
What really escapes me is how so many on the left then manage to talk about something that affects pretty much 100% of humanity in terms that can only be understood by about 0.1% of us, possibly not even that. The right has a host of questionable arguments, and some downright unpleasant policies, but it does have the knack of communicating them in words of one syllable.
It’s not often you’ll see Churchill quoted on Bright Green – but here goes: “Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.” Damn right.
The political thinker I find myself returning to time and time again, Thomas Paine, published his first great pamphlet ‘Common Sense’ in January 1776. It was radical stuff that persuaded the American colonies that reconciliation with Great Britain was impossible and that independence was their only proper goal. John Adams, explaining to a friend that not only was he not the author but could not match its “clear, concise and Nervous” style, remarked that Paine used language that one might hear in an English gaol. In fairness he mixed the language of the ale house and the pulpit. It sold an estimated 150,000 copies and was read or heard read aloud by many many more; and this in an as yet unborn nation with a population of only around 4 million.
Common Sense, The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason, Paine’s ‘trilogy’, are said to be the three most widely read works of the 18th Century. They laid out the fundamentals of liberal democracy in a way that most everyone could understand. They were translated into most of the languages of Europe. They changed the world.
People aren’t stupid. They can grasp sophisticated ideas about our world and the way it works, often against their interests. They just don’t want to turn to the glossary every time a well meaning person of the left writes about it. That’s why most of the discussion of the ideas that matter to us is limited to the pages of the Guardian and is read almost exclusively by the converted.
What I see on today’s left is a lot of intellectual flashing when what is needed is plain speaking. Forgive me if I use some earthy Anglo Saxon. I really don’t give a shit whether people think I’m clever or not. I do care about the stuff I believe in enough to want to persuade others of it. Words are there for the people we are speaking with, not to make us feel smart.