Friday, May 16, 2008

Plonking Platitudes

Reading the transcript of Gordon Brown’s latest speech led me to thinking that all politicians should be required to take a practical examination in the art of speechwriting before being allowed into office.
Quite when it became de rigeur for politicians to employ speechwriters I am not sure. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s homely fireside chats were crafted by a team of writers that included J.K.Galbraith. He commented that he and his fellow scribes would listen with interest to see which of their ‘bon mots’ had been included. Galbraith was, of course, a writer of some considerable ability and this was reflected in FDR’s speeches.
Winston Churchill scorned any assistance as much as he spurned the platitudes that trip so readily off the tongues of modern politicians.
Don’t they ever read the stuff before they get up to speak?
This is a bit rich coming from someone who, once upon a time, earned his crust as a government spokesman, but in my defence I would say that it was for a former Commonwealth country that needed all the help it could get!
My partner in crime was a local man, and the finest exponent of the words and works of William Shakespeare that I have met before or since. If we were guilty of any platitudes in our work, they would most certainly have been Shakespearean ones.
Now it seems that the wordsmiths resort to the Thesaurus of Hackneyed Phrases when composing for their masters – and it shows.
My old English professor swore that he could tell which of his students had access to Roget’s Thesaurus just by glancing at the submissions.
I wonder if Gordon Brown, whom I understand is a well read man, ever contemplated replacing his weasel words with something on the lines of “I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined the Government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.’ ’”
Even a little plagiarisation would have worked wonders.


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