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09 April 2012

Patriarchal Wristwatch Watch: the perils of calling a woman “lay”

Watch what space?
The controversy over the wristwatch allegedly worn, or allegedly not worn, by the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill, when photographed at a meeting with one of the pillars of Russian orthodox politics, illustrates an amusing language pitfall that the unwary Russian public relations executive ought to be aware of.
     The Moscow Times today reported:
“The patriarchate quickly explained that the photograph had been doctored by an inexperienced 24-year-old employee — a ‘lay woman’, the statement emphasized…”
     I do not doubt that report. But the Patriarch’s language, which is perfectly correct in a formal sense, was perhaps unwise in the circumstances. Given the international interest in this incident, he might find himself quoted by Western journalists, who are a disreputable lot. I know because I am one.
     The way his Beatitude's staff (if that’s the correct form of reference) made the point that the buck stopped with a “lay woman”, who was “inexperienced”, exposes Himself to the kind of joke that the British tabloid press absolutely loves. I can just see the old News of the World pouncing with the glee of a hungry bear at a honey festival on those words and printing the following headline in screaming bold type:
Patriarch calls 24-year old woman an inexperienced lay!
     The Patriarch really ought to have asked his chief press officer to clear the text with the Ian Mitchell GaffeWatch Service before release. At your service, Господин! My rates are very moderate...

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