Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Peter MacKay and the language of nothing

"Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Here it is in modern English:
Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit (3) above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations -- race, battle, bread -- dissolve into the vague phrases "success or failure in competitive activities." This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing -- no one capable of using phrases like "objective considerations of contemporary phenomena" -- would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase ("time and chance") that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English."

George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

'Defence Minister Peter MacKay is trying to reassure Canadians that allegations of espionage centring on a Halifax naval intelligence officer will not affect the country's reputation among other NATO members.
"Our allies have full confidence in Canada, full confidence in our information," MacKay said during a news conference in Ottawa late Tuesday morning.
MacKay was responding to questions about the case of Sub.-Lt. Jeffrey Paul Delisle, 40, who was arrested in the Halifax area over the weekend. Delisle faces two charges under the Security of Information Act that deal with communicating information that could harm Canada's interests, according to court documents.
MacKay described the case as a matter of national security because of the charges involved. But he would not discuss specifics, including whether the foreign entity in question is Russia, as at least one intelligence expert has speculated.
"Given the early stages of the proceedings, there is really nothing more that can be said."'