Language and words

The left has a serious problem with words and language.

Inapproriate language will alienate your audience, it will cease to listen.

William The Invader

In 1066 a bunch of murdering "Thugs On Horses", who had spent the previous decade in Northern France using serfs as canon fodder, murdering peasants, raping women, burning villages, stealing everything they could lay their hands on and besieging the castles of their neighbours in the quest for even more land and even more rent, decided to invade England. (See "Millenium" by Tom Holland for a description of the true nature of the Normans - gallant knights in shining armour they certainly weren't!)

On 25th September 1066, at the battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, Harold Godwinson, Anglo Saxon King of England, fought off an invading force of Norwegians led by Harold Hardraade.

Meanwhile, William, the Bastard of Normandy, was watching the weather and, hearing that Harold was the other end of England, decided to invade on September 27th. Harold and his tired soldiers started to march 251 miles from Yorkshire to what is now the village of Battle near Hastings. William The Invader played safe - burning only a few local villages, murdering only a few peasants, raping only a few women, and stealing enough food to feed his army - so when Harold arrived on October 13th William's men were well rested.

At the Battle of Senlac Hill on October 14th Harold's army came close to defeating William's murdering thugs but towards the end of the day Harold was killed and William was victorious.

There followed many years of English resistance, ruthlessly put down by William The Norman Invader using a network of castles, initially wood then stone, to keep the English in their place so he and those who wielded their swords alongside him could parcel out the land, and the rent from that land, between them.

In fact William took all the land of England into his personal possession, "to use and abuse as he sees fit", which is why in 2021 we own all the land of England communally (through "the crown") and why people purchase the right to "hold" land as freehold - just as William granted rights to his relatives and friends to hold land after 1066 - as many of them still do - almost 1,000 years living off the labour and rent of others.

So, 1066 was the year of the Norman Invasion and the chap who led it was the murdering bastard, William The Invader.

Language is important and this is how it should be taught at schools - an "invasion" by an "invader" - not a conquest by a conqueror. Those who held the land (and rents) did so through violence - but they seem reluctant to fight for it these days - except through the law - which they wrote and which they enforce!

We are still living with the consequences of 1066 through the ownership of land, through our legal system, through our class system, through our "public" schools and through the evasion and avoidance of taxes by the wealthy. William was on the take in 1066, and the descendants of those he led are still on the take - having fought one another over land, and rent, for the last 1,000 years!

Networks, bubbles and echo chambers

"The Westminster bubble" is widely used to mean the closed network of MPs, advisors, lobbyists and journalists isolated from "the real world".

We all exist within multiple networks: family, friends, work colleagues, social group, people we meet at the gym or while playing/watching sport etc. In some cases these networks can become bubbles, a group sharing the same world view and the same way of describing it.

A religion is probably the classic example of a bubble. It has a shared set of ideas, a shared world view, a shared language and a shared set of group rituals. All religions spawn new bubbles (sects) each with a slightly different interpretation of the host religion. Those bubbles will split again and again, sometimes violently, until it becomes almost impossible to identify the key ideas shared by all bubbles.

In the worst case bubbles become echo chambers: those within the bubble shouting loudly to be heard only by those within the same bubble. The Skwawbox on the left of the Labour Party is an example and a brief reading of the comments below articles shows the danger of an echo chamber where alternative views are shouted down.

Similar bubbles and echo chambers exist in the centre ground (Guardian readers) and on the right (Guido Fawkes), The Daily Mail and Fox News.

Bubbles and echo chambers reinforce their own world view and rarely engage with alternatives. For over 20 years, DASH (Derbyshire Atheists Secularists and Humanists) has regularly provided speakers for schools throughout the county but, despite repeated offers, has received only one invitation to speak to a religious bubble.

Social media has made this far worse because bubbles and echo chambers are now virtual and widespread. Exchange of ideas within social media bubbles rapidly turns into shouting and insults. In the USA it has become insane.

You may feel better but you won't change the world by shouting in an echo chamber.

Private and public languages

Private languages enable us to communicate quickly and efficiently with those sharing the same "world" - a world of work or a world of ideas. Listen to a group of computer specialists, or a group of orthopaedic surgeons, and you will find it hard to keep up.

Private languages are often used at home: families have words and phrases they share and use exclusively amongst themselves. Confusion can happen when they use those words outside the family group.

Private languages are inclusive for those within a group but exclusive for those outside.

Public language is the one we share, the one that allows us to share experiences and ideas without the barriers of the private languages and private ideas of specific groups.

Communications fail, alienation begins, when someone uses private language and private ideas in an attempt to communicate at the public level. The words and language used are either impossible to understand or they have totally different meanings to different listeners.

You won't change the world by using a private language

Rational and emotive language

Language is powerful stuff. Here are four ways to describe the same event.

  • On 6th July, 2008, 47 people taking part in a wedding ceremony in Haska Meyna District of Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, were killed by three bombs dropped by US military aircraft.
  • On 6th July, 2008, 47 people taking part in a wedding ceremony in Haska Meyna District of Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, were unfortunately killed by three bombs dropped by US military aircraft. These things happen in war, it is unfortunate and regrettable but you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs so sometimes there is collateral damage.
  • On 6th July, 2008, 47 people taking part in a wedding ceremony Haska Meyna District of Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, were murdered by three bombs dropped by US military aircraft. The first bomb hit a group of children who were ahead of the main procession, killing them instantly. A few minutes later, the aircraft returned and dropped a second bomb in the center of the group, killing many women. The bride and two girls survived the second bomb, but were killed by a third bomb while trying to escape from the area. Hajj Khan, one of four elderly men who were escorting the party, stated that his grandson was killed and that there were body parts everywhere.
  • Unwarranted and deliberate attack on civilians as women and children are slaughtered by American airstrike. On 6th July, 2008, 47 women and children, taking part in a wedding ceremony Haska Meyna District of Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, were martyred by bombs dropped by the American Christian invaders.

"Killed", "murdered", "slaughtered", "massacred", "deliberate", "martyred", "collateral damage", "unfortunate", "regrettable", "unwarranted", "Christian", "women and children" - words chosen to create emotional reactions in the reader and "you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs" is designed to trivialise the event. Which is the most unacceptable, the second of the fourth?

Emotive language will be used against you.

Painting pictures with meanings

A word like "socialism" paints a very different picture in different people's minds. Those brought up reading Murdoch, Rothermere and Barclay Brothers newspapers will see "socialism" as something to be afraid of, something trying to control their lives, something trying to take their hard-earned money in taxes.

Meaning?

"The meaning of a word when it leaves my mouth may be
something completely different when it reaches your ear."

You can fall over backwards to be clear about what you mean, but the moment you use a value-laden word the meaning will change when someone hears it. The bad news is you can't do much about it - without engaging in full-time re-education of the listener!

The key is to identify those words and phrases which, thanks to systematic and long-term pressure from the media, have become laden with negative values. You may think they are positive values, but they aren't when they reach the ears of the listener.

Once identified, and once you learn how to adjust your language, you will find it easy to get the same ideas and policies across using normal language without negative overtones and without alienating your listeners. It's also worth remembering that your listeners aren't the small group of politically aware people in front of you, your listeners are everywhere - and they have votes!

One of the best examples of knowing how to use language was Ian Paisley. He never said "IRA" and he never said "Sinn Féin" - he always said "Sinn Féin/IRA" (usually very loudly) - he was painting a negative and emotive image through the simple use of words.

One other hint: everyone has a recording machine in their pocket these days - so, always assume your words are being recorded or they will come back to haunt you.

The newspapers of the three great tax avoiders: foreigner Rupert Murdoch, non-dom Jonathan Harmsorth and "not resident in UK for tax purposes" David & Frederick Barclay (the "right wing media"), know exactly how to take the language of the left and use it to paint mental pictures that generate fear in the minds of readers.

In the USA Fox News portrays Joe Biden as "left wing", "socialist" or even "communist". To UK ears this sounds totally stupid since Biden is very much right of centre and it would be hard to describe even Bernie Sanders as "socialist".

Words used by the left have been turned against it and have taken on totally new meanings for most of the public.

The same trick is played with people. In most countries in Europe, certainly in Scandinavia, Jeremy Corbyn is seen as a moderate social democrat, certainly a bit left of centre but in no way a "communist" or "fellow traveller".

"I'm not changing my language to suit other people.
I know what I mean and I don't care what they think it means."

Well, good luck with that. That's a recipe for a closed and private language, one used within an in-group (a "bubble") which is destined to be totally ineffective.

Don't use words whose public meaning is not the same as yours.

Education won't work

The FJP wouldn't need funding if we made a pound every time someone used an argument that ran something like this:

"We need to educate people so they understand we are the party that has their best interests at heart.
We need to teach them why socialism is the fairest of societies.
People need to learn the history of working class struggle."

Oh dear, where to start!

  • It takes too long. Six people (if you are lucky) in a hired room on a Thursday night ain't going to do it!
  • We don't have the right people to do the job - political fanatics do not make good teachers!
  • It's too late - people learn best when young and most of them aren't going to learn this at school!
  • People don't want to be lectured at.
  • People have higher personal priorities than learning political history!
  • Most people aren't interested in "the big picture", their concerns are in the here and now.
  • You will spend all night arguing why the USSR was not a socialist country.
  • You will end up in arguments about benefit scroungers and why "lazy people" don't deserve looking after.
  • "Good luck to them" will be the argument when you talk about tax avoiders.
  • Life is too short.

Use words and language that don't require re-educating your audience.

The world has changed

Social identity is the critical factor when judging what words and language to use with your audience and there are many factors that have broken down social cohesion and identity since the 1970s.

  • In most towns and cities people no longer work for a single major employer - there is lack of commonality of work experience - you can't moan about the same boss!
  • Just 8% of the UK population now lives in social housing (down from 42% in 1979). Labour will never win on the Council House vote.
  • Cheap supermarket alcohol, food delivered to order and entertainment on tap via the TV and the Internet, mean people tend to stay at home and go out less.
  • People's social groups, which used to be within a few streets, can now be world-wide via social media.
  • The move to the suburbs is relentless and modern housing estates can be pretty soul destroying - they certainly don't fall over backwards to encourage the growth of social cohesion! The local gym, a fairly solitary activity, has replaced the club or village hall.
  • Equality of the sexes means both partners may be at work, both may share household chores and both may look after the children. It is no longer: "work, club, tea" (if it ever was)! "Dinner" has now officially replaced "tea" and soon "supper" may replace "dinner"!
  • Skill levels have increased. "The Digital Revolution" has meant that the classic "working class" jobs (defined as requiring a bath or shower after work) have dramatically reduced. Like it or not, each increase in skill is a step away from identifying with the classic Labour Party market.

    Yes, we know that the definition of "working class" should include almost anyone on PAYE - but that's not how people self-identify.

  • "Class" identity has weakened considerably. Quite rightly, everyone has aspirations for themselves and their families and each "step up", each new mortgage, means that people are less willing to identify with those the Labour Party has traditionally championed.

    The proof of the pudding (cliche´ alert) is in "the right to buy" - which kept the Tory party in power from 1979 until 1997 when a relatively young, self-serving, lawyer suddenly became attractive. Margaret Thatcher understood that if people identified with their own patch of ground, no matter how small, they would vote Tory - they were no longer "council tenants" and therefore no longer Labour. She was right.

Use words and language appropriate to the third decade of the 21st century, not from the 1970s.

Examples: "comrade", "working class"

Of course we know what "socialist" principles are, of course we know what "the struggle" is, of course we stand in "solidarity" with other groups fighting for fair pay and fair working conditions, of course "working people" must work together in the Trade Union movement. All this goes without saying.

Actually there are millions of "working people" who will never want or need to join a Trade Union - but they still work for a living and contribute positively to society So, let's not forget what we are about - for the many, not the few.

To many on the left, words like "comrade" mean you have "got your analysis right" and you are honouring the heritage of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Trade Union movement, 1905, 1917, 1926, 1948, 1972, 1986, 1990 etc.

Note: we are not ignoring history in any way - we are simply moving on - we don't have to "learn the lessons of history", we know them off by heart!

History is vitally important - but we don't have to adopt historical linguistic symbolism to prove our fairness and justice credentials!

"Comrade"

"Comrade":

  • is archaic - in case anyone hadn't noticed, we are in the third decade of the 21st century, not the last decade of the 19th.
  • was fine in 1917 but rather silly and childish to anyone outside the in-group today. Don't agree? Ask down the pub.
  • isn't true! Anyone who has attended a political meeting (left, right, in the middle) will realise that everyone there certainly isn't a "comrade", there is no commonality of ideas - certainly not within the Labour Party at the moment.

"The working class"

What does it mean?

It has dozens of different meanings depending on who is using it - a lefty, the letters page of the Guardian, skwawbox, a sociology professor.

Here are a few possibilities:

  • People who are employed or unemployed (but seeking work) according to government statistics. Does this mean that retired people cannot be working class?
  • People who work with their hands. Who doesn't work with their hands in one way or another?
  • People employed in unskilled or semi-skilled manual or industrial work. (From the Oxford dictionary.) Millions of working people are "skilled" - is a "skilled" computer programmer working class or not?
  • People paid weekly in cash. Most people are paid monthly by bank transfer these days.
  • People in the employ of others. Does that mean that anyone employing others, in a partnership or in management, cannot be considered working class?
  • People on PAYE. A self-employed plumber is not on PAYE, does that exclude her from being working cless? Jacob Rees-Mogg is on PAYE as an MP, does that make him working class?
  • People in a Trade Union. TU membership has slumped to 6.4 million today, 23.5% of the working population. That means 21 million "working people" aren't trade unionists.
  • People who live in Council Houses. That is wrong in so many ways!
  • People who like a shower or a bath after work. Patronising.
  • People who call the midday meal "dinner" and the evening meal "tea". Even more patronising.

We are often told: "we know what it means, we don't have to define it." That way lies madness - or at least a failure to communicate.

What am I?

The author of this page started on a farm ("peasant"?), did a degree, worked for Rolls Royce ("working class"?), became a teacher (?) then set up a business and started employing people.

So, is he "working class"? Is there some line in the sand where one ceases to be "working class"? He certainly agrees with the principles and policies on this web site!

Taboo words and phrases

Taboo words

Our list of taboo words and phrases, as far as arguing for change is concerned, includes:

comrade, socialism, socialist, struggle, working-class, the class, capitalism, imperialism, the left, revolution, bourgeoisie, fascist, nazi, capitalist class, solidarity, the movement, rank and file.

Clichés

Clichés, like "hard working families" and "Dunkirk spirit *", are as bad because they demonstrate laziness, a lack of imagination and an inability to express things in your own words. The FJP has a strict cliché avoidance policy.

Equally all references to WW2 and "Dad's Army" should be avoided - that was 80 years ago - like someone at the start of the 20th century talking about beating Napoleon!

References to Churchill should be avoided - except in one case: at one time in his life he argued in favour of a Land Value Vax.

* Dunkirk was a defeat. 20,000 French and British soldiers were killed, 40,000 British soldiers and 40,000 French soldiers were captured, 400 aircraft, 100 tanks, thousands of artillery pieces and thousands of vehicles were lost, 90% of Dunkirk town was destroyed. It could have been much worse, the British and French armies could have been wiped out, but Hitler still hoped to do a deal with the British ruling class.

We can hear the screams of disapproval.

You can be for or against any of the words and phrases above (as appropriate) without using them - it's words, phrases and language that paint pictures in people's minds and those pictures don't favour the radical change we need in society.

All we can say is "read our principles and our policies" - are they the sort of things you want in a fair and just society?