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Henry’s social media musings – political language

© CORBIS“Despite the best efforts of the ‘milifandom’, Labour couldn’t triumph in the UK election – largely thanks to the ‘ajockalypse’ – and now a ‘Brexit’ looks likely.”

Did that all make sense to you? I’d guess probably not. But you won’t be the only one saying that, trust me.

It’s been a heavy few weeks for the English language since my last blog post, with all manner of new portmanteaus emerging in weeks of lively debate across the media.

From a linguistic viewpoint, one of the more intriguing moments of the past few weeks came when opposition leader Ed Miliband attempted to make his campaign go viral by launching himself into a YouTube interview with comedian Russell Brand.

It was a clear attempt to appeal to the millennial voter, but, as he was to find, that meant playing by a different set of rules when it came to the words he chose:

Miliband: Can I just put it in a particular way for you?
Brand: Well, it’s better for me to put it in my language ’cos if you can understand me it’s better.

Whereas once politicians could speak to us on their terms, it’s interesting to see how the tide is turning. Now their verbose answers are held up to ridicule and scorn as never before, their every word pored over. If an idea can’t be explained in 140 characters, then – for many people – it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

All across the web, we’ve seen growing resentment toward the so-called guff-propelled wonk speak peddled by politicians, whose words often don’t add up to much upon closer inspection.

As election fever gripped the UK, an ingenious site named ‘Polifiller’ became the talk of Twitter – having set itself the task of analysing the main parties’ manifestos for redundant jargon, rooting out the stock phrases they commonly fall back on to muddle through speeches.

Meanwhile, a corpus study from Lancaster University looked at the prominence given to buzzwords like austerity and deficit during the leaders’ televised debates.

They were found to occur with the same equivalence of basic words such as your and these despite thousands of people taking to Google to check what ‘austerity’ even meant.

The report concludes: “… if politicians want to communicate effectively with voters, then maybe they should pay more attention to the way the voters communicate themselves.”

Indeed, this only reinforces the point Russell Brand was making.

But how has it got this way?

Well, hot on the heels of all this came another piece of research showing that if US politicians in the Senate spoke in a certain way – emphasising co-operation, concern and trust – they were statistically proven to achieve higher approval ratings amongst voters.

So, for all we complain about the manner in which our politicians address us, perhaps we’ve all been complicit in this muddying of language all along.

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Henry Firth

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