The Meaningless Political Cliches Drinking Game!

Recently I penned an article about how clichés used in political discourse harm the way we think and damage our methods of persuasion as certain phrases/maxims lose their impact due to overuse.

After posting the article this issue has been troubling me for some time, but not due to the ethics of how we should use language but just out of sheer irritation* at the frequency of the linguistic-seizures foaming out of politician/journalist/pundit’s mouths. Certain phrases used in talk-shows, speeches are either so overused, meaningless or incoherent that it has infected the way I think. It’s very difficult not to use a cliché because there are so many – so many that I have created a list…or rather: a drinking game.

Thus a good measure of how poisoned politics has become with clichés is to see how quickly one can get drunk via sipping alcohol accordingly to when the maxims and words listed below are used in a speech or a discussion-show (i.e. Question Time or Newsnight).

Behold, The Meaningless Political Clichés Drinking Game…

Nigel Farage holding a pint of beer

Nigel Farage holding a pint of beer

PHRASES – 1 SIP OF DRINK

  1. “Hardworking Families”
  2. “Tough Decisions”
  3. “The War on **insert cultural phenomenon to which current government is having an ideological battle against**
  4. “The something for nothing culture”
  5. “The us and them mentality”
  6. “A tough love approach to…”
  7. “We’re cracking down on…” (Crime, drugs, extremism, benefit fraudsters, tax-dodging etc)
  8. “Frontline services”
  9. “Communities” (especially “vibrant” ones)
  10. “Diversity”
  11. “Inclusivity”
  12. “Change”
  13. “Dreams”
  14. “Aspirations”
  15. “Goals”
  16. “British values” (when used with this strange – and arrogant – assumption that British people are the only people in the world who have representative democracy, trial by jury, who queue in shops, who use sarcasm, or who eat fish and chips)
  17. “Democracy” (the word itself being used as a piece of persuasive rhetoric/a political buzzword to attack the opposing side…i.e. “this isn’t democratic”, “this policy goes against democratic values”)
  18. “This is the 21st century” (Saying this condescending phrase as an attack against someone with socially-conservative/traditionalist values)
  19. “Draconian”/“Medieval”/“Ice age” (Using a word/phrase which implies/states the concept of ‘the past’ to criticise a policy – “the bedroom tax is something you’d see in medieval times”, “these draconian measures…”)
  20. “Party politics”
  21. “Political point scoring”
  22. “Benefit scroungers/spongers/thieves”
  23. “This is the worst….since….” (i.e. “This is the worst economic situation since Wall Street”, “This is the worst crime rate since 1987”…)
  24. “Raising awareness”
  25. “We’ve all seen the images” (in reference to a famine/war which is obviously not in a 1st world country because said person loves being all judgemental and assumes everyone in middle-eastern countries a cannibalistic barbarian because they’ve “never heard of democracy”)
  26. “Broken Britain”
  27. “We’re all in this together”
  28. “United we stand”
  29. “Change for the better”/”Change we can all believe in”
  30. Adding a word before the noun “Britain” to apply it with an ideological attribute: “alarm clock Britain”, “multicultural Britain”
  31. “Yes we can”
  32. “It’s the economy, stupid”
  33. “The International Community”
  34. The portmanteaus “Europhile” and “Eurosceptic”
  35. “The Westminster Bubble”
  36. “A New Politics” (in particular reference to the idea that this speech is about changing political culture, specifically ending political corruption)
  37. “Educated at Cambridge/Harrow/**insert wealthy educational establishment here**” (Randomly referencing – usually a Tory – politician’s educational history to suggest that they’re not representative of the majority of the people)
  38. “The Liberal Elite”
  39. “The Metropolitan Elite”
  40. The suffix “-gate” used to describe a political scandal (i.e. “Plebgate”, “Bigotgate”, “Cablegate”, “Watergate”…)
  41. “The mainstream media…” (Randomly mentioning the “mainstream media” to criticise political bias to divert attention from your own mistakes and thus criticise the way you/your party has been represented as opposed to the actions of you/your party)
  42. “Will you let me finish”/“I let you speak, you’ll let me speak”/“As I was saying” (Phrases used in political interviews/debates/discussions where specific panel members are “rudely interrupted” and thus have to start their point ALL OVER AGAIN)
  43. “Look…” (Starting a sentence with the word “Look” with a brief pause and a pointless hand-gesture to signal the fact that you’re going to say something which probably involves a difficult time in the future due to “tough decisions” having to be made)
  44. “At the end of the day…”
  45. “Let’s deal with some HARD facts”
  46. “The West” (Using this pointless generalised phrase when all you really mean is just “America”)
  47. “The East” (Using this pointless generalised phrase because you assume that all middle-eastern Muslim countries aren’t as civilised as us Westerners – generally said in a very patronising tone)
  48. Using the word “deeply” for extra impact (usually in reference to a scandal where a media-personality/politician has said the N-word for example… “this was a deeply offensive thing to say”, “this has deeply offended the XYZ community”)
  49. Just the word “offensive”
  50. The words “inappropriate” or “unprofessional” used when stronger words would do (usually used to describe a media-personality/politician saying something “offensive”… “his comments were deeply inappropriate considering his high-position. A total misjudgement and totally unprofessional”)
  51. “We need to get out of Europe!” (A meaningless phrase which what they really meant to say was: “We need to leave the EU”)
  52. “Boom and bust”
  53. “The squeezed middle”

RHETORICAL METHODS – 3 SIPS OF DRINK

  1. Meaningless hand gestures
  2. A specific word/phrase/sentence said 3 times for rhetorical impact
  3. Stating a statistic but using it entirely out of context, thus warping the statistic to fit your own point/argument
  4. Taking a longer than usual sip of water (provided by the BBC taxpayer) just so you can think of a point
  5. “Doing a Michael Howard” – i.e. not answering the question at all and instead resorting to saying (and indeed repeating) a meaningless sentence over and over again to divert attention from your/the party’s own mistakes/actions/decisions
  6. Comparing a politician to a previous infamous one – i.e. Margaret Thatcher, Enoch Powell
  7. Comparing a politician to a famous dictator (usually Hitler because that was the first fucking dictator that came into said person’s tiny brain)
  8. Confusing Communism and Stalinism/saying that North Korea is a “communist/socialist country” (and any other versions of the same mistake)
  9. Linking UKIP to extremist parties like Golden Dawn and Front Nationale (or just saying general crap like “Nigel Farage is doing exactly what the Nazis did”)
  10. Using “liberal” and “left” interchangeably, or just saying “liberal left”
  11. Confusing “multiculturalism” with “multiracialism” (and vice versa)
  12. Saying bizarre phrases to mock left-wingers: “guardian reading, Godless, beret-wearing, tree-hugging socialists” (etc)
  13. Saying bizarre phrases to mock right-wingers: “daily mail reading, ultra-Christian, white-supremacist, bigots” (etc)
  14. Mocking the media-image of a politician as opposed to their policies/ideology/what they stand for (i.e. laughing at Ed Miliband for looking like a very famous children’s stop-moton character, and being substantially poor at consuming a bacon-butty)
  15. Using the metaphor/image of a door, a gate or a bridge to describe issues surrounding immigration
  16. Journalists who use nasally intonation on specific words for theatrical effect (journalists include Jeremy Vine and Nick Robinson)
  17. Inserting a word in front of an ideology or party-name to imply that the party has “moved on” from its old ways…i.e. “One Nation Labour”, “New Labour”, “Compassionate Conservatism”…etc
  18. Making a politicians name into an adjective/or another word form, i.e. “Thatcherite”, “Neo-thatcherism”, “Blairite”, “Milibandism”

REALLY CRAP JOKES AND CHEAP GIMICKS – FIVE SIPS

  1. Politicians trying to be funny
  2. Journalists trying to be funny
  3. Awful play on words-gags such as turning “Blair” into “Bliar” or combining the names of the political parties to represent your view towards them “I CONDEM the conservative and the liberal democrats (maybe even phrases similar and including “Clegg-mania”)
  4. Journalists ending a report with a play on words which references the theme/topic of the video…i.e. if it’s about sport “Britain is going to have run the extra-mile/jump a few more hurdles if it really wants to stand a chance at gaining gold in terms of the quality of PE lessons”
  5. Silly over-the-top graphics employed to demonstrate a point, i.e. to show that the economy is rising, present a bar-chart increasing but the bar in the bar chart is replaced by lots of gold coins stacking onto one another

 

*The following drinking game is probably too harsh/pedantic in certain points

Politics and The Cliched Language

This article with an intentionally awfully-punned title is about The Adolf Hitler of Language: Cliches

George Orwell

George Orwell

In 1946, George Orwell wrote his most well-known essay “Politics and the English Language” in which he describes how euphemism is used to conceal dangerous policies and acts committed by politicians and how clichéd phrases used in political discourse are lowering the room-temperature of debate to a level of such palatable mildness that it becomes substantially unbearable*.

What is most concerning perhaps isn’t necessarily that discourse is simply descending into people exchanging overused propagandistic statements, but that words which used to have and maintain such power are spoken/written so often (usually when not needed) that their effect and meaning becomes diluted.

It is evident that Orwell was right in some regards (I do disagree with him on some minor points but overall I think his essay is precise in its criticisms). Indeed, Orwell’s points can be applied to today’s discourse.

Euphemism is particularly dangerous as it subtly lacerates our minds by allowing us to succumb to the harmful, by believing what wishes to implement hurt onto us to be either: non-threatening or a nonchalant “everyday”.

Wars are called “armed conflicts”, terrorists are called “insurgents”, bombs are called “Improvised Explosive Devices”, areas which have experienced intense civil-wars between violent militia groups are said to be “destabilised regions”, war-crimes, genocide and slaughter en-masse are simply ignored in phrases which gloss over the events, such as, “humanitarian intervention”, and my most favourite of all: a phrase used when families have been flung out of their homes and made refugees is “the displaced”.

Eupemisms are insulting

Euphemisms are insulting

Pundits gleefully chuck around political-clichés like rabid cheetahs throwing around the dismembered heads and intestines of their prey. “It’s an us and them mentality”. “The Westminster Bubble”. “The Political Class”. “The Liberal Elite”. “Give The People what they want”. “We’re being robbed of our liberty”. “A Political Landslide”. “A Political Earthquake”. “The Loony Left”. “We’re living in a Nanny State”. “We’ll make Britain great again”. “The gap between rich and poor is at an all-time high/low”. “Boom and bust”. “Health and Safety gone mad”. “The Mainstream Media always does this”. “Parties like UKIP are just blaming the other” (identity politics has always been a bit of “a minefield”, when it comes to clichéd phrases)…

What is perhaps more disturbed is that – as already mentioned – powerful ideological words have become semantic-voids: “Political correctness”, “Socialism”, “Liberalism”, “Fascism”, “Racism”, “Homophobia”. Even “Democracy”. These shouldn’t be clichés or political-buzzwords or pieces of rhetoric employed – if I may adamantly use the cliché – “to score cheap political-points”. I hear Obama described as a socialist. I hear David Cameron being called a fascist. I hear phrases which ejaculate paradoxes of such intensity that it is like observing Ron Jeremy gushing out orgasms of thunderous nonsense-speak: “socialists hate poor people”, “liberals don’t like free-speech”, “**insert leader here** is just like Adolf Hitler” (Why is it when people wish to compare elected leaders to totalitarian ratbags, Hitler and Stalin are always the most popular choice?), and certainly the worst phrase – a phrase which exhausts superlatives – is “multiculturalism is white genocide”.

Hitler must take it as a compliment that his name is used as a piece of rhetoric employed to win debates...

Hitler must take it as a compliment that his name is used as a piece of rhetoric employed to win debates…

Certain individuals seem to be under the guise that socialism and Stalinism are synonymous and that Liberalism isn’t about freedom of speech or a free press but actually just a synonym for what has been crudely termed “Cultural Marxism”. I must admit, I do cringe when I read articles or hear people who use “Left” and “Liberal” interchangeably.

Other peoples will then brand celebrities homophobic for using specific words (of course ignoring the context in which offensive/obscene language is used entirely). James Arthur once tweeted “fucking queer”. Does this really mean he dislikes gay people, really? He doesn’t. He’s just intensely…”insensitive”, with his language use. I’ve never been a particular fan of the word “homophobe” (and it’s derivatives). It’s a very limiting word and implicitly states that dislike for gay people is entirely due to fear – thus when you use the word against someone who doesn’t fear gays but is instead disturbed, disgusted or repulsed by them, the word seems so false that to the “homophobe” it becomes a useless word in and of itself. Thus, a vital question arises: do new words have to be formed, and indeed who should form them?

This progresses onto a more serious point. How can we discuss Homophobia or Islamophobia if the words themselves dictate entirely a whole situation? How can we understand prejudice if we only ever view it through the lens of “people fear what they don’t understand” (a cliché which is not only annoyingly overused but false in some circumstances).

Indeed, if we stretch this issue wider, how can anyone be persuaded by rhetoric and language if our sentences are toxicated with linguistic-poison? (Do forgive me for the melodramatic tone).

One of my favourite maxims is: A truth expressed badly is a lie. Language should be used to persuade and enlighten. How can we persuade and enlighten our fellow ignoramuses about poverty if we are restrained by only ever using phrases like “the gap between rich and poor”, how can we talk about an overly-protective universe, to our fellow creatures, if we only ever use phrases like “nanny state” and “health and safety gone mad”? The problem with clichés is that they are words and phrases so overused that their original intent and meaning has become severely pixelated. Thus, we have to conjure new expressions, phrases, words, and portmanteaus to express the same ideas. All debaters will know that the same ideas are recycled in debates, but how one expresses them is what matters: for the original turn of phrase makes the issue seem more relevant than it would if expressed via…a weakened mode of language.

Indeed these same points can be extrapolated onto issues regarding “armed conflicts” and the war-crimes which occur during them. People seem to be referring to civil-wars in Iraq and in Russia/Ukraine by not stating what is actually occurring and instead cloaking the issues behind opening a sentence such as: “The situation in Iraq”. What situation? There are multiple “situations” that occur in Iraq – and why is every foreign international event referred to as a “crisis” (this isn’t a middle-aged fedora-wearing IT-expert attempting to find his lost watch – we’re talking about politics infused with machete-off heads and children with bullet-wounds here). It gets more perturbed when certain pundits discuss what other nations and “foreign powers” are doing, will passively refer to the entire globe as “The International Community”. It’s hardly a “Community” – I don’t see much communal spirit, and when there is, it’s based on entirely false premises (the Olympics for example).

Henceforth, I think some rules need to be stated on how to write about politics without resorting to cliché:

This is what cliches "open themselves up to"...

This is what cliches “open themselves up to”…

1) If you’ve heard the phrase before or seen it “in print”, don’t use it.

2) Try and think of multiple similes or metaphors and use the one which seems most appropriate.

3) If you are to use a cliché, ensure to veil it in a salad of irony, you might wish to use quotation marks – I personal always put “110 percent” into doing this.

4) Refrain from being overly-sentimental, this is where most clichés seem to simper their way in.

5) If you are to use a political-insult, try and design a new phrase which expresses the same meaning. For example, rather than saying “champagne socialist”, you could use phrases like: “airport-lounge revolutionary”, “occado-communist”, “New-Statesman-subscribing Bolshevik” – or simply replace the word “champagne” with its sister-drink “Prosecco”.

6) Always question the names of political-parties. Most political-parties do not adhere to the ideology to which their title would subscribe. The Labour Party isn’t left-wing and The Conservative Party is hardly adopting the beliefs of Edmund Burke.

7) Never use euphemism. State facts. Don’t avoid events. Soldiers didn’t “pass away”, they died. If you wish to be emphatic you could use words like “massacre” or “slaughter” – but try not to over-use such words or be too emphatic with this type of tone as being so melodramatic is essentially the same as being euphemistic.

 

* George Orwell has also written another essay called “What is Fascism” where he explains succinctly and clearly why the term “Fascism” doesn’t have any semantic-worth and is simply used as a political-insult.