Two big words



I sometimes think we under-estimate words. To say of someone “S/he’s all talk” is to dismiss them, see them as armchair generals,  sofa socialists, full of empty verbiage. That’s one interpretation of words and their use. The other is  that they give us a  toe-hold on reality and help us on our way to climbing it.

Take “Liberty” for instance. I saw the word on the front of The Guardian  newspaper recently, offering different views on Liberty by people like Edward Snowden, Julian Barnes and Rosie Boycott. When I got inside to read, I found they were talking about the organisation Liberty,  formerly The National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) The organisation is 80 years old and the paper was marking the occasion by providing the thoughts of a selection of public figures. I suppose it could have been worse: it could have been the fashion house Liberty they were referring to. However,  all appeared to consider liberty in internal terms; none appeared to consider how the actions of one country could limit the right to self-determination (that is, liberty) of another.

The other word that caught my eye in recent days was ‘revisionist’. In his book about Ireland 1912-22, Professor Ronan Fanning identifies two kinds of revisionism in the writing of history. For some it means “no more than revising our knowledge of the past in accordance with new evidence unearthed or old evidence revisited”; for others   it’s a matter of rewriting history, not as it was, or as they have been taught it was, but as they would prefer it to have been.  He quotes Bernard Lewis, a respected historian on the Middle East, who argues that “those who are in power control to a very large extent the presentation of the past and seek to make sure that it is presented in such a way as to buttress and legitimise their own authority”.

Could there be two more important words? And could there be two words which have been more abused? All-talk, far from being impotent,  controls as well as reflects all-think and all-act.

2 Responses to Two big words

  1. paddykool February 22, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    Jude :
    There’s been a lot of talk about “revisionism” recently. There’s also that line about the” two histories” of Northern Ireland .. you know……”.their” history and “our” history.

    Memory can be an unreliable friend at the best of times so i suppose written “History” amounts to an opinion that gets the best press. On a very local level ,though, our provincial newspapers spew a weekly edit of innocuous waffle that won’t frighten too many horses or maiden- aunts, while in the background brute -reality goes mostly unreported in case it might affect sales to one “tribe” or the other.Most of the same letters’ pages are also fairly tame affairs for similar reasons. There is local newspaper” history”, for example [which is mostly the boring stuff about fashion shows and fairs} and then there is the real history that’s too hot to print..The local stories that are told in the pub.

    Recently I’ve noticed local political parties attempting to re-write and re-think what actually happened here in Northern Ireland back in the 1960’s and 1970’s against overwhelming visual and written evidence to a contrary and more realistic view . In my own personal case this sounds worryingly like trying to rewrite my personal memories., which as I’ve already mentioned , can be vulnerable.

    This is the equivalent struggle the flat-earthers and creationists are having against the logic of the scientific community and the veracity of evolution. I suppose though ,
    if you tell a big enough lie often enough ,it will eventually gain a little traction in some quarters and might eventually even overwhelm your own logic..

    Hitler’s mate Josef Goebbels was said to have said : “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.

    • john wolfenden February 22, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

      Just agree !!!