The cowardice of the passive voice

Ex-Prime Minister, Boris JohnsonRegular readers will know that I’m a big fan of the use of language and how small changes can drastically alter the meaning or the tone of what’s being said.

In advance of Boris Johnson appearing before the Select Committee who will determine whether he misled parliament, I was struck by one particular phrase that the ex-Prime Minister used in the dossier of evidence that he presented.

In point 4 of the introduction, it says:

…I accept that the House of Commons was misled by my statements…

What’s notable about that sentence is that he uses the passive voice. Basically, Boris Johnson is admitting he told a fib/lie/untruth (whatever you want to call it), but the way he phrases it, means that he doesn’t explicitly take responsibility. Continue reading “The cowardice of the passive voice”

How ‘sweary’ do swearwords need to be?


When I was a kid in the 70s and 80s, I was brought up not to swear. If my mum had heard me uttering the ‘f’ word, I’d have been lamped and send to the naughty step.

I once remember using the word ‘prat’ and being roundly chastised, not knowing that it wasn’t just a word for an idiot, but also someone’s arse. Wash my mouth out with soap.

But as society has evolved, the ability of swearwords to cause offence has become far more difficult. My 77-year-old mum went to an adult pantomime this week – I can’t imagine for a second imagine it wasn’t full of cussing.

There is, however, one area of the UK establishment where swearing is still frowned upon. That’s the BBC. Yes, the last bastion of prudishness, where apologies are issued for any expletive within seconds. Continue reading “How ‘sweary’ do swearwords need to be?”

The joy of learning a language

When it comes up in conversation that I can speak more than one language, the most common reaction I get is ‘oh I wish I’d carried on learning xxx [insert language here]’, followed by ‘I was rubbish at languages, but I’d love to be able to speak something else’.

That’s such a shame. Some of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in my life are as a result of learning a language, or being able to speak to someone else in their own tongue.

  • Sometimes it was as simple as befriending the local butcher in a small Normandy village, and him offering us vegetables from his own kitchen, because all the other shops had already closed for the evening.
  • It can be as eye-opening as talking to remote Mozambican villagers in cod-Portuguese about their lives.
  • As terrifying as ringing the emergency doctor in Germany because my then-girlfriend couldn’t stop being sick. I learned some new vocabulary on that call, I can tell you!
  • Or being able to persuade a local woman to offer us a room for the night in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, because we had nowhere else to stay.

I was only able to do those things because I’d learned the language (to varying levels) and felt confident enough to at least try and have a conversation. Continue reading “The joy of learning a language”

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