Thursday, March 06, 2008

Lazy language


Straight talk

Mar 6th 2008

Words to avoid, from A to Z

THE lazy use of shorthand and cliché are not unique to discussion of the ex-communist world. But here is an alphabet of words that are overused and under-explained.

A is for anti-Western (usually equalling anti-American). This is automatically bad, regardless of rich-world blunders, hypocrisies or arrogance. Reasonable objections to dubious outside advice, misdirected money, or missile-defence schemes can all be smeared in this way.

B is for bureaucratic, a good way of criticising east European standards of public administration according to a notional western standard somewhere between Finland and perfection (see “world”, below).

C is for clannish, or cronyism. Useful words to convey the idea of criminal behaviour or corruption without having to nail down the facts clearly enough to satisfy English libel standards (see “murky”).

D is for dreary. Often accompanied by “communist-era”. Anything you find aesthetically displeasing.

E is for Euro-Atlantic, a synonym for “good” and shorthand for wanting to join NATO and the European Union.

F is for flashy. Some east Europeans have more money and less taste than is good for them.

G is for go-ahead. A general term of praise for someone who ignores public opinion and constitutional niceties in pursuit of change of which you approve. Often accompanied by descriptions of the subject’s use of an iPhone or BlackBerry.

H is for heavy-handed. Any government action that is disliked for unspecific reasons (see “tough” below).

I is for instructive. A favourite particular can be generalised if it is thus described.

J is for jovial. Drunken, even by the standards of the region, but good (see “convivial”).

K is for kleptocracy. A useful if rather grand synonym for “corruption”.

L is for liberal-minded. Someone who ostentatiously prefers foreigners to compatriots as conversation partners.

M is for migration. The hottest topic right now in Europe, but should be applied only to the east-to-west variety. British pensioners buying holiday homes in Bulgaria do not count as migrants.

N is for narod. This Russian word meaning “people” can be bandied about, giving the vague impression that you spend your evenings reading Dostoevsky in the original.

O is for out-dated. Another good boo-word. Nothing in western Europe is outdated, but many things behind the former Iron Curtain fit the description exactly.

P is for populism. Ideas that are evil but troublingly popular.

Q is for quiescent. Useful for expressing impatience with voters (see “narod”, above) for putting up with things and people that you disapprove of (see “damaging”).

R is for reformer. Anything from an authoritarian moderniser to a wimpy xenophile. Can still be used as a synonym for “honest” and “competent”, despite little factual evidence to suggest the connection.

S is for steely. Anyone dislikeable, unemotional, and with a KGB background.

T is for tough. Breaking rules and ignoring critics, but for reasons that you approve of.

U is for upset. Anything that you failed to predict.

V is for virtual—a useful way of sounding clever and disparaging, as in “Russia has a virtual economy run by a virtual government”. Now slightly out of date.

W is for the world. A loose but useful term. “Unlike in the rest of the world” actually means “unlike in a composite of the United States, Germany and Finland”. Much of the ex-communist world is actually very like the rest of the world: poor and badly governed.

X is for eXtremist. A bad word meaning people who promote an unpleasant minority viewpoint. Unless they win an election (then see “damaging”).

Y is for yearning. Something people ought to want but don’t express effectively (see “quiescent”, above).

Z is for zealous (see “tough”, above).


akarlin said...

Wow, an article about eastern Europe but humorous and sorely lacking in a Russophobic side-dish. Is this really you writing this Ed?

Ilya said...

Edward, I can probably add something to your alphabet. You of course know about 4 Is of Russian "strategic policy": institutions, infrastructure, innovations & investment. But I think they are hiding the real "I-list" from the people of Russia. The real 4 Is are:
* * *
God bless us all!