Saturday, 17 October 2015

Words in vogue: returning, again

Another one to look out for. "We are returning [X] to [X]", which being interpreted seems to mean "We have successfully confiscated [X]; "We have changed the ownership of [X] to something which it never was"; "We have altered things to how we would like them to be".

The use of "return", which actually means "give back", is designed to make you feel that justice is somehow being done and  a wrong is being put right. Increasingly it is being used not to indicate this, but to indicate a change in which in fact something is happening for the very first time ever. Please don't be taken in!

Thus, George Osborne (or, at least, his twitter account, probably in the care of a young SPAD):
(Oct 13): "We've finished the process of returning @RoyalMail to private sector". Eh? Since when was the Royal Mail in the private sector in the first place? The clue is in the name: although one might argue that 17th century monarchs experimented with a version of outsourcing before the Commonwealth period, it would be hard to describe the Royal Mail's history in terms of nationalisation at any point (whereas, if he says the same about one of the banks partially nationalised in the wake of the 2008 crash, that would be a legitimate use of the term.)

Or, as enthusiastic "big society" types have said to me, "the libraries are being returned to the community" - which means, exactly, what, other than the removal of public money, resources and responsibility? They are already "in the community" (that's what a local council is, remember?)

Or, to pick a local example, this rather lazy headline from the Western Mail: "It will be very nice to enjoy it as a residential area again" - from which anyone who didn't know the area might imagine that the houses came first and were there for years before the evil council put a tip next door (in fact, the tip used to be three times the size, and it was there before the houses were built: anyone moving there must have already known about the tip). Before the tip, the area was scrubby woodland.

I have the feeling that there will be many more examples of this sneaky rewriting of history. Beware the words "returned" and "again" - at the very least, ask what is the similarity between the modern version of anything and its supposed original state, that's the one it is being "returned" to "again".