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Friday, 13 February 2009

Language, and privacy.

One of the “big” news stories this morning was the release of the transcript of a telephone conversation allegedly between Boris Johnson, the elected Mayor of London, and KeithVaz, M.P. The newsworthiness of this item rested entirely on the number of times that the “f-word” was used by Mr Johnson!!

On the Radio 4 “Today” programme, excuses were made for London’s mayor, and it was suggested that, even if the transcript was accurate (this, not surprisingly, is being disputed) it merely showed what a “normal” man Mr Johnson is. The point was also made that this had been a private conversation, not intended for public consumption.

Two things strike me abut this incident. The first has to do with language. I was always taught that those who reverted to such expletives did so because they didn’t have an adequate command of the English language which is, in fact, extremely rich in adjectives. Routine use of foul language is the resort of the uneducated and inarticulate. Unfortunately, this cannot be said of London’s current mayor. He was educated at the European School in Brussels, Ashdown House and then at Eton College. He later read Classics at Balliol College, Oxford as a Brackenbury scholar. During his time at Oxford University he became president of the prestigious Oxford Union. He worked as a journalist, and he has published several books, and a novel. He has also produced a television series on Roman History from his book of the same name, The Dream of Rome.

So what has happened? Is it now acceptable – indeed, is it now expected – that the holders of high office in the land should sound like uneducated louts? Is this a sign that society is sinking to the level of the lowest common denominator? What sort of example is it for the child who has been told by a parent or teacher that such language is unacceptable?

I wish that I had simple answers to such questions. The only thing that I know is that the Word of God tells me “Don't use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. And do not bring sorrow to God's Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he is the one who has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behaviour. Instead, be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Eph.4:29-32).

The other point that comes out of the story is the current fashion of what may be termed “invading people’s privacy”. Surely that which is spoken privately should be kept private, and not immediately “leaked” to the media! The Bible has something to say on that score as well. “A gossip tells secrets, so don't hang around with someone who talks too much.” (Prov.20:19), and Paul writes about those whose “…lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, fighting, deception, malicious behaviour, and gossip.” (Rom.1:29).

Could it be that even a change in the sort of language that we use, and the reporting (or otherwise!) of it, would be followed by an increased level of mutual respect, understanding, trust, and politeness?

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