Balls 1

20 Sep

You may have inferred from the lack of recent activity on this blog that its author is rather busy. He’s not. Trust me. He’s spending his mornings getting wired on cheap Spanish coffee and dancing to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, while his afternoons are pissed away reading René Depestre novels in a third-rate Bloomsbury café. It’s his pathetic attempt at a pathetic attempt to familiarise himself with Haitian Literature. He generally knocks off at around six pm, and heads off to a pub nearby for a lonely half-pint. From that point onwards, the day is done and so is any hope of extracting even the most meagre drop of achievement from it.

As you can see, doing nothing is very tiring and time-consuming. I am actually beginning to look forward to having obligations once again.

At some point over the course of my idle summer, it came to my attention that a new buzzword had arrived in town. At the beginning of August, glued to the news for want of anything better to do, I noticed that the only consistency between the reports (other than utter cluelessness) was the ubiquity of a powerful and peculiarly amusing little adjective. About a week after the cities of Britain had fallen quiet, I noticed the same word cropping up in articles on everything from the Libyan Revolution to the Venice film festival. No matter what hits the breaking news alerts these days, it is in some way or other a “ROBUST” proposition.

I first heard the word in question from a guy called Ed at school in Scotland. He used it incessantly, regardless of whether he was talking about his favourite mediocre sitcom character, Rab C Nesbit, or the idiot pet project that was his plan to manufacture BB Guns in his Mum’s garden shed. He had a glint in his eye that suggested visionary brilliance… actually, on second thoughts, I’m pretty sure he was just a lunatic- he insisted on being addressed at all times as “Commissar” and had an unhealthy fixation with using spray-on deodorant cans as flamethrowers. Nice.

Perhaps you can now better appreciate my difficulties with the R-word.

It is slightly cheap to suggest that the phrase “we will tackle this with a robust response” (as trotted out to death by politicians and the Police top brass in the wake of the riots) is now code for “we have absolutely no idea what we’re doing”, but the abuse of the adjective in the media smacks of journalistic laziness. Take this phrase, in today’s Guardian, for example;

“Leading scientists have accused the world’s top cartographers of making a blunder in their representation of the effects of climate change in Greenland, prompting a robust defence by the map-makers’ publisher.”

Blimey. I never really imagined a map-maker’s publisher could come on so strong. How, exactly, does one defend one’s map robustly? Like this, apparently…

“You will always have a level of generalisation. But we have compared like with like. The same criteria were applied to the 1999 data to that of 2011.

“We are not saying that all of the ice loss is due to climate change. It is the lion’s share but the data has improved over the period.”

It’s a defence, I’ll grant John Vidal, the Grauniad’s Environment editor that. How, though, is it in any way “robust”?

In the last instance, the word is just filler- it’s pointless, a slap in the face for concision. It’s annoying- very annoying- but not unforgivable.

Much worse is this extract of a statement from the Metropolitan Police, which appeared in another Guardian article yesterday;

“… The MPS cannot respond to the significant public and political concern regarding leaks from the police to any part of the media if we aren’t robust in our investigations and make all attempts to obtain best evidence of the leaks.”

In this context, “robust” is just plain wrong. Surely the word the Met were looking for was “thorough”? The image does not suggest diligent police work, but rather a broad shouldered, pot-bellied riot cop charging at a filing cabinet and smashing it up for scrap with a truncheon. Dunno about you, but I do not find this a reassuring choice of vocabulary.

I raise my hands. Inactivity has clearly turned me into a pedant. Or possibly not. Make what you will of my internet “research”, but I’ll leave you with this thread I stumbled into on a forum purporting to be “the largest network of teachers in the world”. I am, it seems, not alone.

If, as another well-worn political platitude would have it, Education, Education, and Education are still the three main priorities for government, then perhaps there is hope after all.


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