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Reforming the language of politics

Charles Miller

edits this blog. Twitter: @chblm

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Yesterday's Daily Politics discussed twin directives issued to BBC journalists and civil servants about the word "reform".

According to presenter Anita Anand, in unrelated initiatives civil servants have been told not to use it because it is "too negative" while BBC journalists have been told to cut back because it is "too positive". 

On the programme, Tory MP and author Louise Bagshawe had her own bugbear: that under the previous government there had been too much use of "investment" where "spending" would have done.

Bagshawe practises what she preaches: in her latest book, Desire, (right) she uses "investment" once but "spending" four times. 

And columnist Simon Jenkins wanted less "change".

Anand put another one to them that she said "had people frothing": "Tory-led coalition". But Jenkins and Bagshawe had no objection to that.

Jenkins knocked the subject on the head with his view that "a good journalist knows how to use words. Why do you have to be told which words to use?."

Bagshawe, with her Oxford degree in Anglo-Saxon and Norse, would surely have had more to say if the item had not been squeezed in at the end of a live show.

Today's Daily Politics had Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls and Treasury Minister Justine Greening discussing the economy. I didn't spot any of the offending words but there was a selection of tired economic metaphors which the language police in Whitehall and the BBC might consider for their next directives - although politicians are, I suppose, beyond the control of any higher authority. If they could be restrained, here's what we might like to hear less of:

Balls: "slam on the brakes"; "stop digging"; "too deep and too fast".

Greening: "choppy recovery" (twice); "rebalancing" (three times); "buoyant" (twice).

It wasn't all bad. I liked Balls' claim that "people are pulling in their horns because they're fearful of the future". It sounds folksy, but isn't the kind of thing you'd hear from Alan Johnson.

According to the Farlex Financial Dictionary, "pulling in horns" is a technical term for when "investors close positions or set up offsetting, hedge positions when a security has recently seen a sudden increase in price. When investors pull in their horns, they lock in the gain they made from their positions." 

And I'd give a small award for Greening's jibe at Balls for having "baked borrowing into your budget". Perhaps a fairy cake?

Expand your economic vocabulary with the BBC College of Journalism's Business Glossary.

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