Our language is being debased with Trump guilty as hell...

In her weekly column Colette Sheridan looks at the use of language
Our language is being debased with Trump guilty as hell...

BAD MOUTHING: US President Donald Trump outraged people in the past week with his use of language, insulting migrants from Africa and Haiti.

DOES it ever bug you the way the English language is being debased? Or just fiddled with, resulting in a whole new dodgy vocabulary that everyone understands but wouldn’t stand the test of the guardians of our speech.

Mind you, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), keen to keep up with the zeitgeist, allows in new words that are used in pop culture or tech culture, words that wouldn’t have been part of everyday parlance decades ago. Google, the name of the internet search machine, has been officially recognised as a verb since 2006 in the OED.

The ‘word’ that so many people now casually drop into a conversation is ‘relatable.’ You know what it means but it’s made up rubbish.

It’s often used to describe celebrities who are, as the kids would say “so, like, normal?” I vow never to use the word, even if the dictionaries allow it in. People who are empathetic are so often lazily described as ‘relatable.’

Speaking about the possibility of Oprah Winfrey running as a presidential candidate for the Democrats, an American journalist, Leslie Marshall, said on Newstalk last week that she doesn’t find Winfrey ‘relatable’.

That means, presumably, that a wealthy world famous woman like Winfrey, a mega brand, wouldn’t be on the same level as the ordinary worker in the US.

Mind you. Look at the current incumbent in the White House. Is he capable of relating to his electorate? Not with gold taps in his bathrooms and all the other vulgar accoutrements of excess to which he is in thrall.

Oprah Winfrey is the kind of woman who interviews others about their ‘journey’. We’re getting bored with the word (which used solely be referred to traversing a geographical area) that is now dropped into everything from the trials and tribulations of the weight loss brigade who are on “an emotional rollercoaster” (as Kathryn Thomas described one participant) on Operation Transformation, to the celebs dancing their socks off on Dancing with the Stars. They’re all on a journey which, ideally, is heading towards triumph.

Of course, life is a journey but in truth, it has no foreseeable end point (apart from death some time in the future) and we don’t know what’s going to happen en route. A bit of a road trip then that’s unpredictable. Not a journey that can be precisely plotted from A to B.

The pseudo psychologists would tell us to ‘own’ our journeys. Heck, we should be ‘owning’ everything from ‘the moment’ we’re in to untrammelled ambition or traumatic experiences. It’s a way of denoting our autonomy and the implication is that we can live with everything, provided we’re our ‘authentic selves.’

Ah yes, authenticity. A lot of people these days want to live more ‘authentic’ lives. I’m not quite sure what the opposite of that would be. But the way it’s presented in the media, authenticity seems to be vaguely tied in with ‘artisan’ food, ‘craft’ beers/gin and knowing the provenance of everything that passes down our gullets. It’s about being sustainable (nothing wrong with that but it’s hard to put into practice) and true to our selves. A successful businesswoman has described her heart as being the only ‘real’ part of her. Apparently, she’s had ‘work done’ everywhere else! At least she’s honest about her deceptiveness.

Another term that’s being bandied about this cold wet January is ‘duvet day.’ There’s an implied entitlement in that phrase that we’re perfectly justified to doss off for the day, just because it’s gloomy outside. If I were an employer, I’d be concerned. For those of us that are self-employed, a duvet day would be a fine thing.

The most objectionable user of language in the public sphere is Donald Trump. Apart from the fact that he often can’t spell in his attention-seeking tweets and doesn’t know his geography (last September, he appeared to invent a new county called ‘Nambia’ while addressing African leaders in Washington), he is given to insulting entire nations — and being racist to boot.

His description of immigrants from Africa and Haiti as coming from “sh**hole countries” was ignorant and, as the United Nations human rights office said, racist.

Questioning why the US would want to have immigrants from Haiti and African nations, and suggesting that immigrants from Norway would be welcome, Trump was basically saying that only white people are acceptable when it comes to people entering the country he rules.

Trump’s call to ‘make America great again’ really means ‘make American white again.’ But as Mexico’s former president, Vicente Fox, pointed out in a tweet, ‘America’s greatness was built on diversity.’ Apart from the racism in Trump’s comment, the language is unbecoming, particularly coming from the gob of the so-called leader of the free world. He’s an embarrassment and a liability.

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