Sunday, 12 August 2018

Linguistic Dilemma: Brexit doesn't mean Brexit

By Willie Drennan
Is Oxford keeping up with change in language?

Modern politics and modern media are transforming the English Language. We used to all know the meaning of certain words, and when strung together into sentences, most people could easily follow and figure out what they meant.

Today it is getting much more complicated, especially in the world of political jargon. Old established words don't necessarily mean the same thing as they used to. For example: Liberal no longer relates to the old dictionary definition of liberal. Liberal does not mean liberal any more. As a matter of fact when the word is applied to modern politics it actually seems to mean illiberal.

It is pretty much the same for the term Progressive as it now seems to refer to political ideologies that are actually regressive.

And as for the terms Nazi and Fascist : they no longer refer to the activity and mindset of 20th Century authoritarian dictatorships. Those terms are now commonly used to refer to someone who disagrees with you.

Then there's the so-called political Left, Right and Centre. That used to be fairly simple to figure out but now it seems that only those with university degrees in politics understand the current complexities.

Also, when a political leader says “once in a lifetime”, we all once upon a time knew what that meant: but not any more.

Now this is not just a problem for old established words and their original meaning but for new words as well. Take the relatively new word Brexit: meaning the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland exiting the European Union. At least I have always assumed that's what it meant.

Our PM, Theresa May, seemed to clarify exactly what the word meant in 2016 when she famously, categorically, stated that “Brexit means Brexit”. That succinct statement of absolute clarity was helpful at the time, but now it seems that Brexit doesn't necessarily mean Brexit after all. Some people even think that our PM actually really meant to say “Brexit doesn't mean Brexit”, instead of “Brexit means Brexit”. Apparently this type of linguistic error is common today: such is the state of the English Language among the politicos.

Adding to this confusion there are now the terms: Soft Brexit and Hard Brexit. These are obviously just irrelevant and redundant terms that someone has introduced for purposes of mischief. Nevertheless, they are now out there and causing even more chaos in political debate.

Regardless of how this all came about I think the simplest way of addressing the current national state of confusion is by converting the language into a simpler format that is more accessible to the general public. Instead of Brexit, how's about British Exit from EU, or Britain Leaves the EU? I do believe the words exit and leave have prevailed unaltered in meaning for the contemporary Oxford Dictionary.

Other old-fashioned words that have not had a meaningful meaning change just yet are: democracy, independence and sovereignty. These words should perhaps be used more often as fundamentals of language for current political debate. This should help facilitate more mutual understanding.

Once we get the language back on track the process of leaving or exiting the EU will hopefully be more efficient. There has been well over two years now of squandered, muddled verbiage since the people made their decision. We just simply need to either leave or exit. I don't care which. It should all become quite straightforward once our government manages to fully comprehend the relevant language.

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