Friday, 18 January 2013
Buzzwords and catchphrases
Anybody at all familiar with the British home education scene will be aware of the way in which certain words and expressions are seized upon and then used and misused to death. Some word will catch the attention of home educating parents who do not really know its meaning and they will then work it into almost everything they write. ‘Conflation’ was one such word which enjoyed a vogue two or three years ago. The problem is that it quickly became apparent that few of those employing the word actually understood its meaning. Conflation means the combining of disparate things into a single entity. We might, for instance talk of, ‘the conflation of military and economic assistance’ to a country. Now possibly because both words began with the same four letters and ended with ‘ion’, many home educators soon persuaded themselves that ‘conflation’ was a synonym for ‘confusion’. This gave their observations a slightly surreal air, to say nothing of making the authors appear, at best, semi-literate.
Another old favourite, still widely used, has been ultra vires. The idiosyncratic way that this legal expression is often used makes me despair. I blame Ian Dowty for its widespread adoption by parents!
A word which has been gaining ground in the vocabulary of home educating parents over the course of the last year or two is ‘statist’. This is invariably used in a pejorative sense, as in ‘That Ed Balls; what a statist!’. Once again, it is clear that few of those using the word have the least idea what it means. They evidently believe that a ‘statist’ is somebody who wants more state intervention in the lives of citizens! I imagine that this meaning has been arrived at by a neat bit of folk etymology. ‘Statism’ sounds a bit like ‘state’ and must therefore indicate state control, right? Well, no. Wrong, actually!
Over the last fifteen years or so, we have witnessed a massive increase in state interference in our private lives. This is absolutely undeniable and we have now reached a point where applying for a job can require the production of one’s passport; a situation unthinkable even a few years ago. The state seems determined to poke about in every aspect of our affairs. Side by side with this rise in state intervention in our lives has been a corresponding and dramatic decline in statism. Statism is the doctrine that strong and centralised control is beneficial for society; control of the police, social policy, economic affairs and so on. The political developments which we have seen over the last decade and a half are the opposite of statism. From the devolution of power to Scotland and Wales, to the recent introduction of locally elected Police Commissioners; everywhere we look, statism is on the run.
Why does it matter to me if many home educating parents use words and phrases in a bizarre fashion? I suppose the main reason is that it casts home educators in a poor light. These are supposedly fulltime educators and they do not apparently even own dictionaries which would enable them to check the meanings of unfamiliar words! I am not of course the only person to notice this. Many of the submissions made to select committees, letters to newspapers, public statements by people on behalf of other home educators and so on, are riddled with elementary errors of language and grammar. Since, as I say, these are people claiming to be educating the younger generation, it does tend to give a poor impression. If they cannot write coherent English, some might say, how on earth can they hope to provide a decent education for their children?