The language of politics is not always sound and fury. Both those on the short end and the long end of the power stick sometimes have to choose their words carefully. These political code words can be a shorthand or a smokescreen for political intentions.
Locals with the stomach for it have the context for the bombast, and they effortlessly clue in on the stock of phrases persuaders use to trigger a call to action.
But just as often, those carefully cultivated messages are used for just the opposite reason — to avoid or obscure a view that might stir up a hornet’s nest among supporters or political enemies.
This week: two case studies from two quite different political cultures, France and China.
The Economist has published an amusing glossary of “new French doublespeak,” a great chance for the conservative British magazine to tweak some of the word choices of François Hollande’s Socialist government.
“Both the left and the right in France have a tradition of disguising policy with woolly or euphemistic turns of phrase,” states the magazine. The glossary includes:
Redressement des comptes publics (putting right the public finances): budget cuts and tax increases, never combined with austérité or rigueur (see banned words). Not to be confused with…
Redressement du pays dans la justice (putting right the country with justice): soaking the rich with taxes. Not to be confused with…
Redressement productif (productive renewal): name of ministry responsible for stopping industrial closures, or failure thereof (see Florange, Peugeot).
Plan social (redundancy plan resulting from aforementioned factory closures): job losses, not to be confused with organisation of social life, bars, clubs etc.
Modernisation de l’action publique (modernisation of public action): eliminating public-sector inefficiencies, elsewhere known as budget cuts.
You have to admit that these French turns of phrase have a certain je ne sais quoi when compared to the terms of debate currently employed here in the Arsenal of Democracy. The current crop of political bon mots — “Fiscal Cliff,” “Gun Control,” or “Death Star Petition” –certainly lacks the subtlety of French political expression.
Is there any American political doublespeak that can match the accomplishments of the French?
Maybe. Readers are encouraged to share politicisms of their favorite polity in comments below.
Next time we’ll look at Chinese political language. In that censorious society, euphemism is often the only option for powerless citizens who must watch their language before their murderous Commie masters. Next time: how last week’s press protest in China provided the Miracle-grow for a flowering of Chinese political euphemism.