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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Robert Fisk’s World: Tanks roll and guns fall silent, but the clichés go on for ever

Clichés are poison. They seep into our language like defoliants, pesticides that reside in our imagination, slowly destroying our power to express ourselves by dehumanising language, by industrialising speech. Newspaper and television reporting are to blame. We are all guilty. So why do we insult you, reader? And why do you put up with this?

Some of this claptrap has been around for years. Catholics are always "devout", Protestants (the Northern Ireland version, at least) inevitably "staunch". Bitterly hostile antagonists are always "foes" or "arch-foes". New dictatorial laws – the new press laws in Iran, for example – are always "draconian" (poor old Draco), while secret policemen (the Gestapo, the Shah's Savak, the Afghan Khad, the Syrian mukhabarat, the present-day Iranian Etelaat) are always "dreaded". Needless to say, the Israeli secret police – who also torture and murder – tend to be "elite" or (my favourite) "second to none". The point about all these words, of course, is that we do not use them in conversation. We never ask a Catholic if they are "devout" or describe a vexatious next-door neighbour as an "arch-foe". If we are discussing the Syrian secret service, nobody says: "Yes, they're fairly dreaded, aren't they?" We just don't talk like that.


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