Politician Speak with Forked Tongue

Forked TongueThe world is full of politicians who deliberately (or even unwittingly) try and effect language. Historians give countless examples of witless (or even intelligent) political schemers who have made their mark on language. Either through the coining of new compounds, bizarre collocations, alternative set phrases and mixed metaphors or through commentary about politicians by observers are we forever introduced to a variety of odd constructions that sometimes bubble and sink in the linguistic melting pot or float to the top like unwanted excrement refusing to disappear.

Poland’s politicians are no different and are busy at work trying to stamp their authority on the Polish language. I was filled with linguistic glee (whatever that is!) when I learned that Roman Giertych, of ultra-catholic, right-wing fame, won his battle for the re-introduction of uniforms in Poland’s primary and high schools because of the fact that some people have begun calling these uniforms Giertyszki or Romanówki – a great example of Polish’s delightful penchant for possessivediminutives. This also reminds me of Borówki (which also means ‘berries’) referring to the team of people closely associated with Marek Borowski, leader of the SDPL.

However, what really drew my attention to the linguistic shenanigans of Poland’s political classes was Transubstantiation in which we find the following examples of political gobbledygook:

łże-elity,   bure suki,   lumpen liberałowie,   wykształciuchy

All these words are usually uttered with venom (or bile, take your pick) and are generally always directed at politicians of the ‘liberal persuasion’ (don’t say it out loud – this is Poland) by members of Law and Justice (PiS). Anyone who belongs to any sort of elite, intellectual grouping, academic team or is a liberal (struck out to make it less offensive) can be classed as one of the above.  As Transubstantiation tells us (but with additional commentary of my own) łże-elity are the ‘lying elite dogs’; bure suki is another subtle reference to dogs and it generally means ‘drab dogs/bitches’ (how nice!); lumpen liberałowie is a classic and shows the disdain with which PiS views liberalism – these are the ‘lowly liberals’, the ‘uber-scum of Poland’; the final one wykształciuchy is a brilliant perversion of the word ‘educated’ giving it a contemptuous coating. I’ve heard it used to refer to academics and journalists who refuse to be vetted by government authorities.

Whatever you think, you can’t say that politicians don’t have the gift of the gab. Yes, they’re ill-mannered, unfriendly and unethical, but they have the ability to make me smile when I hear the verbal garbage they use. The phrase that seems to have the greatest political (and statistical) currency in Poland at the moment is IV RP which has nothing to do with Received Pronunciation but is an abbreviation of czwarta Rzeczpospolita or ‘Fourth Republic’, a fantasy utopia coined by Poland’s President Lech Kaczyński to imply a new state that aims to cut all ties with the (post-communist) ‘Third Republic’ (1989 and onwards). The idea is interesting but has met with little support outside government circles leading to the even newer concept of the ‘Fifth Republic‘ put forward by Lech Mażewski.

We certainly do live in interesting times.

3 Responses to Politician Speak with Forked Tongue

  1. AndyC says:

    Pedantry I know, but did you mean “politicians who … try to affect language”? – or am I wrong here?

    I was reading an interesting article today by Julian Baggini in the Guardian
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2057101,00.html
    where he points out that a lot of criticism of liberal stances has been caused by some intellectual’s views on relativism filtering down through society. I have also noticed over the last year or so that liberals have been portrayed either as “bleeding heart liberals” who are soft on crime, immigration etc. and the root of all problems, and that previously quite reasonable people have really toughened up their positions on moral questions. I suspect it has never really been fashionable to be an intellectual (at least not in the UK – I don’t know about Poland), but I do think that intellectuals, academics, liberals etc. are a little more under fire at the moment.

  2. rafuzar says:

    AndyC: A pedant you are and a good job. You are, of course, correct. As always.🙂
    A wonderful article by Julian Baggini and #very# interesting. I remember hearing dear ole Pope John Paul II talking about (moral) relativism and was struck by the lucidity of his argumentation (you have to remember he was also a philosopher in his time, a student of Roman Ingarden). That’s not to say I’m an advocate of anti-liberal views or the fight against relativism: I have a lot of time for Derrida, Foucault and the whole post-modern/deconstuctionist thaing, but we should be wary of a polarisation of views. In Poland a clear divide has appeared with politicans on one side and certain right-wing politicians on the other. The only way to counter this situation is for discussion and negotiation, but this seems unlikely at the moment.
    Nice of Julian Baggini to quote from my favourite film:
    “As Walter put it in the film The Big Lebowski: “Say what you like about the tenets of national socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.””
    Something to think about…

  3. […] Poland has become a linguist’s dream in recent years with politicians and advertisers taking full advantage of their new found freedom. Terms like “gruba kreska” or ”odwkurzacz” show the need for the Polish language to shake free of socialist linguistic shackles and communist newspeak and find a new voice. However, Poland’s politicians have shown their inability to rise to the challenge and their language and politics often seem to be worryingly similar to what we were accustomed to before 1989, note Speaker of the House Ludwik Dorn’s “łże-elity” (lying elites) or other examples given in a previous post here. […]

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