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Tue

12

Jun

2007

The Guardian Breaks Record for Howlers in One Editorial
Tuesday, 12 June 2007 08:18
by Brian Barder

Today's Guardian's first leader on the G8 summit at the charmingly named Heiligendamm is full of Guardianesque bloopers, linguistic and substantive.   Here's a selection.  Emphasis is added throughout:
[the agreement refers] to there being 5 million HIV/Aids sufferers. It is accepted that the total is much closer to 10 million.
"It is accepted" by whom, and on what basis?  A prime example of a classic journalistic evasion.  "It has been said…"  "It is believed…"  "It is reported…"  Unless we know by whom in each of these cases, and can thus judge the weight to be given to the reported belief, acceptance, or whatever, the statement is completely worthless. It may well be the case that there are "closer to 10 million" (how close?) HIV/AIDS sufferers than 5 million, but since such figures are inevitably largely guesswork, we are entitled to be told on what authority the guess is quoted.
This was not some student error borne of an essay crisis
"Borne of an essay crisis"?  Borne as in carried?  Carried of a crisis?  Or does the writer mean "born"?  Even if so, the thought is so obscure that you're forced to re-read it, interrupting the flow, and then to try to work out what it means, if anything.
…the bold Gleneagles promise — to provide $50bn extra in development cash by 2010… Up until the last day it looked like the commitment could be dropped this time around
Not only are both the first and last words of the second sentence irritatingly superfluous: the formulation "it looked like…" as a conjunctive phrase is unforgivable in the editorial of a serious newspaper laying claim to a certain standard of literacy.  No doubt this wretched usage, already approaching acceptability in spoken English in the eyes (or ears) of some linguistic appeasers[1], will eventually replace "it looked as if", even in otherwise good written English, but that time has unquestionably not yet arrived.  Bad show, Guardian.
Nor did the summit produce the anticipated froideur between Vladimir Putin and his counterparts.
He or she who writes Guardian editorials could be expected to know that "anticipate" means something different from "expect", even though intensive and ignorant abuse has no doubt led some dictionaries which ought to know better to surrender the point (they could at least label it vulgar and incorrect).  What action were the rest of the G8 supposed to have taken to forestall, pre-empt or otherwise take action in advance of the expected froideur? And speaking of froideur, what's the matter with good English words such as 'chill' or 'coldness'?
The Russian president skilfully wrongfooted George Bush by offering to put a Russian-operated radar in north Azerbaijan at Washington's disposal, obviating the need to locate a similar station in the Czech Republic. The proposal will not come to anything, but with it Moscow gains the initiative.
This (skilfully or otherwise) neglects to explain the real significance of the Putin offer, namely that it exposes the falsity of the American (and British) pretence that the star wars system with its proposed station in the Czech Republic is not designed to protect the United States or western Europe against a missile attack from Russia.  If, as Bush straight-facedly maintains, the system was really intended only to counter missiles from Iran and North Korea targeted on the US or western Europe, then a radar detector station in northern Azerbaijan would be just as effective as one in the Czech Republic, and moreover it could be located there without upsetting the strategic balance.  But we all know that it's really directed against Russian missiles, and that's why "the [Azerbaijan] proposal will not come to anything".  Without some such explanation, the Guardian's comment seems to suggest that some kind of special skill is required to present any old counter-proposal, however impracticable, in order to "gain the initiative".
On Britain's demand for the murder suspect Andrei Lugovoi to be extradited, there was no meeting of minds between Mr Putin and Mr Blair. But there was a meeting and, in the current strained atmosphere, that is better than nothing.

But is it?  Even Mr Blair can hardly pretend not to know that the Russian Constitution forbids the extradition of a Russian citizen to another country (if only we had a proper constitution with such a provision!) and that demanding action by the Russian President which is patently beyond his constitutional powers can achieve nothing except to aggravate the relationship, irritate the Russians, and make our prime minister look silly.  Rule 94 (or thereabouts) in diplomacy is not to put your political capital and public reputation on the line for something that you know, or reasonably believe, you can't achieve.  So is a mere meeting of the two heads of government, on a basis that's bound to result in failure to agree, really "better than nothing"?  I'd have thought that 'nothing' (i.e. anything) would have been better than a charade from which our side predictably emerges as having failed.  Once again, though, Mr Blair's overriding purpose seems to be to protect himself from any possible accusation of having "failed to act" or of having failed to take a strong line on some problem that might later turn out badly.  Instead of recognising that extradition to Britain is simply not on, and proposing instead some sort of trial inside Russia with British legal participation and safeguards, perhaps on the lines of the Lockerbie trials, as a practical escape route from the impasse, Mr Blair prefers to ram his head against a visible brick wall — just so that he can say, "Well, I tried."  When even the Guardian tells him that the brick wall option is "better than nothing", it can only encourage him in this short-sighted, unimaginative, self-serving folly.  But as he has barely two more weeks in office, perhaps it doesn't matter.

*  *  *  *  * 

Not bad for a single editorial of fewer  — or, as the Guardian's editorial writer might say, "less" – than 700 words!

[1]  Readers of Ephems who are interested in linguistic solecisims, and in the appeasers' argument that it doesn't matter how you say something so long as you make your meaning clear, might care to spend a few minutes visiting a newish language group discussion forum designed precisely for those interested in language, how it works, and whether it matters if people contrive to foul it up:  Start here. You may find some of the existing debates on language issues amusing, annoying, futile, pedantic, or worth-while:  better still, you may be moved to add your own contribution, perhaps asking a question in a new 'topic' or thread.  No need to register unless you want to, e.g. to protect yourself against others using whatever username you have chosen for the forum.  All are welcome — well, all of good will and good manners, anyway.  Here it is again.  And for more detailed guidance on using it, see here .

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