Double Positive V Single Negative

12 Jul

The project – the reason I was spending so much time on the Island of Ireland – was extraordinary. Breathing new life into an economy wrecked by decades of disregard and battling legions of diehard naysayers was invigorating and challenging.  But more than the project itself, I found myself immersed in, mesmerised by, the local way of words – not just the accents but word choices and less inhibited conversational patterns.

Beyond marvelling at the quality of conversations – the highly-valued, hugely entertaining, fast-flowing and oft-surreal ‘craic’ – it was the contrast between Irish English and English English that hit hard between the ears.

Nowhere was this contrast more evident than in the matter of post-qualifiers – verbal reinforcements that bolster or modify statements.  To some it was a mild embarrassment but to my ears entirely natural that ‘to be sure’or ‘so it is’ could be twice repeated to hammer home the positive intent.  Not so at home in England where negativity was the norm with a single ‘don’t y’know’,‘innit’or in strangled parliamentary speak, ‘is it not’.

That contrast between the double positive and single negative post-qualifiers seemed to speak volumes of cultural variance and, in the context of the project, was a huge contribution to the success of the project and its call for imaginative/brave/fresh thinking.

I was reminded of this when writing ‘Word of the Week: Sophistry’– letting off steam as Westminster wrestles with the consequences of addiction to right-headed (AKA wrong-headed) ideology. A colleague working on the Irish project often complained that if stated three times, falsehoods became normalised and regarded as truth.

Taking a principled stand against sophistry is always a test of leadership – and in its absence huge damage can be incurred.  We’ve witnessed that in the promotion of Brexit but that is only the tip of the iceberg.  For the moment, in its 70thyear, the NHS has a temporary reprieve but do not doubt that the destroyers have gone away.  Meanwhile the BBC remains a popular target and silence fogs the failures of rail privatisations.  In that era of post-privatisations, it was, apparently, entirely ideologically sound to silence any criticism of the lack of full fibre until now when the consequences of underinvestment are becoming apparent.

The destruction of decades of public investment on the altar of avarice is rooted in the narrow negativity that prevails over the more forward-looking positivity that we all need to make a difference. To be sure.  To be sure.

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