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01 March 2013

The dead politics of dead clichés: Voice of Russia gets it wrong (again)

President Rafael Correa: can you spot the cross-hairs?
It is noticeable how people whose minds are full of loathing for something or somebody often write in a confused way. Anger seems to disturb style.
     On 8 May last year, I drew attention to an example of this in the strange maunderings of a propagandist from the Voice of Russia, John Robles. Now Robles has done it again with an article predicting the death of the Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa.
     On 8 January, Robles wrote an article entitled “Correa was to be assassinated by CIA before elections”. The headline should have been “Correa is to be assassinated…” since the article was a prediction. But that is a small point. The larger one is that Robles, who bears an unlikeable, bilious animus against the West, and the United States in particular, said that “it is almost a given” that Correa will be “targeted for assassination” by the CIA before the Ecuadorian elections, which were to be held in five weeks’ time (i.e. a fortnight ago). The man is “walking around with cross-hairs on his head”.
     The reason is that Correa has “become a pain in the neck for the US”. “Ecuador’s societal model,” Robles says, “can not be allowed to stand as it contradicts US propaganda and capitalist interests… So the reasons for the CIA assassinating Correa are many and obvious.”
     The elections before which Correa was to be killed took place on 17 February. Correa is still alive and running Ecuador in his unconventional but not irrational way. Life goes on.
     The whole article is a useful illustration of the linguistic point that people who write in clichés tend to think in clichés. One of the people who made that point most forcefully was George Orwell (see previous post). Señor Robles (who comes from Latin America himself) would do worse than to spend the weekend reading some of his beautifully-written essays, especially “Politics and the English Language”, which I highly recommend. It is available on the web at this link.
     Orwell ends with a sentence which applies with painful exactness to Robles’s text. Accepting that a single individual cannot change the whole English language, Orwell nevertheless concludes with a message of hope for all victims of Roblasian prose (if I may coin a word):
“One can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase—some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse—into the dustbin, where it belongs.”
     Mmmmm: “verbal refuse”, an apt phrase indeed for “almost a given”, “cross-hairs on his head” “societal model”, “capitalist interests”, and “pain in the neck”. Into the dustbin with all of them!

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