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09 March 2017

"Sanctions" - a word much misused in Russia today: иногда "бойкот" лучше

It is high time that Russians who wish to be thought of as speaking correct English (like the Foreign Ministry) stopped misusing the word "sanctions".
     The West has imposed "sanctions" on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and support for the "separatists" in the eastern Ukraine. By way of retaliation, Russia said it was imposing "sanctions" on the West, by making some types of food illegal to import and so on. These are not sanctions. They are a boycott. The difference is crucial if the English language is to be used correctly and therefore clearly.
     Sanctions, in essence, are restrictions which are intended to prevent OTHERS from doing this or that, including buying things you sell. A boycott happens when a group of people, which can include a country, decides to restrict its OWN actions in the hope of harming someone else by, in most cases, refusing to deal with that other person or entity (which can also be a country or group of countries).
     The word "boycott" - in Russian: бойкот or бойкотировать - comes from the name of an English land agent in Ireland in the nineteenth century with whom many native Irish refused to deal, due to his unpopular way of dealing with them. There is a good entry in Wikipedia which will give you the whole story.
     The man concerned is pictured above. His name was Captain Charles Boycott, and it is his surname which has come down to us as the word for causing self-harm by mass action in the name of public policy or morality. Causing harm to others by preventing them taking advantage of what you would normally offer them is something else entirely. The distinction can be illustrated with reference to the picture.
     Due to the size of Captain Boycott's beard, you could draw one or other of two logical conclusions. Either he decided to boycott the makers of razors, or the razor-makers imposed sanctions on him, by refusing the supply him with their products. Those are two different situations, described in correct, and therefore precise, English by two different words. Do not mix them up!

1 comment:

  1. Boycott is a form of sanctions.