57646356JT0204_Howard

The language we speak

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Ah, that Julia Gillard. She’s hotter than swordfish on a bbq. In case you missed it last weekend, she said this of John Howard:

‘In politics, the fish doesn’t so much rot from the head as from the heart.’

(Think I’m kidding? Check out the context.)

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A few days before, you’ll have noticed that our favourite senator from the Family Fist party, Steve Fielding, had a somewhat less successful encounter with language. Commenting about Labor stimulus spending the generally challenged Sen. Fielding said:

‘We need to get the physical and monetary policy working.’

Physical spending? Maybe not. Asked if he meant fiscal spending he gratefully agreed:

‘I will make it quite clear…F..I..S..K..A..L.’

Thank God the people are represented accurately.

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Gillard’s piquant usage prompts fond recall of Paul Keating at his coalblack peak. He has grown gentler; his critique of contemporary Labor was no more than this:

‘… among the new class of professional politicians – power and the pathways to getting it; polls, news management and election campaigns etc, is what turns them on.’

Mungo MacCallum, in his book addressed to a nephew aspiring to be a pollie, How to be a Megalomaniac: Advice to a Young Politican, made a list of Keatings’ keener phrases used in Parliament house (my remarks):

harlots, (of course) … sleazebags, (would anyone dare, today?) … mugs, (old standard) … clowns, (nostalgic)

friends of tax cheats, (rather Jesus-like) … brain-damaged, (old but good) … stupid foul-mouthed grub, (a mouthful) … bunyip aristocracy, (very period) … clot, fop, (molto ditto)

gigolo, (who on earth did he mean?) … perfumed gigolos, (ditto) … hillbilly, (ditto)

rustbucket, (rust bucket?) … Liberal muck, (bit literal) … ghouls of the National Party, (ditto)

gutless spiv, (hey!) … half-baked crim, (was that half-complimentary?) … piece of parliamentary filth, mmm

Good times.

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wilson1You lie!

Pollies rarely have that turn of phrase, or range, anymore. See, or hear, rather, Congressman Joe Wilson’s interjection during Obama’s health speech – ‘You lie!’

To the point and brutish. Better british, I think – as Andrew Sullivan reminds us, Churchill had a more refined locution: “terminological inexactitude“.

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