Words in the News

going goat

The UK media were briefly agog this week at news that State Opening of Parliament, planned for 19th June, might have to be postponed because of delays in finalizing the Queen’s Speech following the unexpectedly close election result. In fact it will take place on 21st June. One reason given for the delay was that the speech is inscribed on special goatskin parchment paper which takes several days to dry. This led to questions such as: what is goatskin parchment paper? is it made of actual goatskin? if not, why is it called that and why does it take days to dry? and which century are we actually living in, the 21st or the 12th?

To answer these questions: it is heavy acid-free paper with a goat watermark, designed to last 500 years; no; it is called that because it resembles the goatskin on which important documents used to be written and the ink takes several days to dry because – well, I’m at a loss here*; and sometimes you have to wonder.

It seems too that, according to the BBC’s Nick Robinson:

‘… the phrase going goat is still used in Whitehall to denote the moment when the Queen’s Speech has to be finalised and sent to the Palace for Her Majesty’s approval’.

Funnily enough, goats have featured in UK politics in the recent past; or at least GOATs have. When Gordon Brown became Prime Minister in 2007 he was keen to draw on the abilities of those who, while sympathetic to his government’s aims, were not members of the ruling Labour party. So he invited experts to join his Government of All the Talents, or GOAT. Naturally those who heeded the call quickly became known to journalists as goats, leading to headlines like:

One of Gordon’s goats is abandoning him.

The experiment failed, and no government since has attempted anything similar.

* Cynics would say it takes several days to dry because the government needs several days to reach agreement with the DUP who have agreed to support them in office. I couldn’t possibly comment.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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