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From Richard Nixon to Boris Johnson, the worrying rise of ‘bad talk’ in politics




Listening to recent political exchanges, one cannot avoid some glaring examples of sinister linguistic changes. In particular, the badly spoken term has been used recently by a number of public figures.

People have spoken badly everywhere. Boris Johnson badly spoken about the coronavirus restrictions, while a senator from Florida apparently spoke badly about having tested positive for Covid-19.

The term is not that new. In the early 1970s, a certain Richard Nixon presided over an era of rampant understatement. Wars in remote locations have been sanitized for domestic consumption using words such as bomb ammunition and collateral damage for civilian deaths.

Technology has played an enthusiastic role in debasing language, encouraging people to talk about subjective feelings and states in an impersonal and mechanistic way: I’m going to put you on hold may seem like a harmless expression, but it boils down to reducing l other person has an electronic problem. Then there was the dulling of subjective, felt, human states: I have a problem, it is not the same that I am worried about. I have a problem that takes one away from the burden makes it a problem like any other problem, rather than focusing on the subjective nature of the experience

Remarkably, Mr. Nixon never did anything wrong (or admitted it), he made mistakes. Some of these problems were quite serious, but they were, in his opinion, just mistakes. He also made popular a phrase that continues to haunt the political landscape of the Nixonian verb to speak badly.

I spoke badly, he said in his convincing grizzly voice. Indeed, it must have become a euphemism to lie. It could also be a way of saying that we were wrong. Lie and error are perfectly simple words, but they carry potential stigma, even though many mistakes are quite excusable.


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Talking badly can also be used to cover up a policy reversal. If a government minister promised something he shouldn’t have promised, then rather than saying that I was wrong or that we changed our mind, the expression I mispronounced does all the work. work required. It corrects our understanding of the situation without accepting any responsibility for misleading people.

We haven’t seen any bad writing yet, but it will undoubtedly show up in due course. Authors should expect the more widespread availability of this phrase, as it will cover a multitude of what were once called sins, now bad deeds (mischief is an old word of judgment). Getting something completely wrong can be explained as a simple clerical error. In an extreme case, it may also be possible to refer to a glaring error not only as bad writing, but as an alternate fact.


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