Linguistically Superior

In tomorrow’s Times Oliver Kamm berates the Plain English Campaign for intellectual snobbery. And he makes a good point. I never did understand why the famous Donald Rumsfeld quote about ‘known unknowns’ was quite so reviled. Sure it was convoluted, but I understood the point. Because of the aren’t-we-superior facade, though, I just assumed I wasn’t understanding something. This year, the winner was:

The only thing which isn’t up for grabs is no change and I think it’s fair to say it’s all to play for, except for no change.

That’s the best they could do?

Couldn’t they concentrate on matters of linguistic import? Language is frequently manipulated for the purpose of deception, and outing these examples would be far more use. Why not expose the no-win-no-fee adverts from companies who give every impression of being legal representatives, when in fact they’re only trying to sell people insurance against losing? Or there must be countless political phrases that seem clear but are in face entirely ambiguous. Or even something as seemingly innocuous as car manufacturers who, banned from promoting speed as a virtue, say “the only thing you’ll be overtaken by is adrenalin.” They could expose the loopholes so that rules can work as intended. Or they can just make fun.

I keep thinking of a line from David Mamet’s State and Main, in which the ditsy Sarah Jessica Parker adopts a furiously indignant expression, and exclaims:

…I have something to say, and I think you know what I mean!

before storming from the room, convinced she’s won the argument. Given the media attention lauded upon the PEC results each year, it’s a shame the whole exercise is little more than pseudo-intellectual sniggering.