The language of politics

The trend towards language simplification, typical of advertising slogans, is the same that enhances a the all-pervading presence of the so-called “pundits-”

Recently, Victor Mallet published on Financial Times, an article whose title was “Latin and Greek are not dead languages in modern France” .

In this clever and humorous article, the Author points out that in France today still exists a “reciprocal fascination” between intellectuals, politicians and executives, which occurs in the frequent use of classical quotations.

Some examples: the macronian presidency is defined as “jupiterienne” and the same Macron wants to be “Cesar and tribune of the people at the same time.” Then, about the former discussed and powerful CEO of Renault-Nissan, Carlos Ghosni, arrested in Japan, it was written: “Alas, the Tarpeian Rock is really near the Capitol”.

Moreover, Boris Johnson compared the torturous Brexit Affair with the promethean punishment, with the eagle that tears the liver of the hero. However, if the Brexiter, says Mallet, with their references to the Latin and Greek, are accused to be “snob”, in France the same references (e.g. about the Brexit, someone talks of “Greek Calendae” and of a “protean crisis”) are almost natural and generally accepted.

According to the writer Laurent Godet, the classical myth (in particular the Greek one) can “explain” still today the modern world. In this sense, the cruel Islamic terrorists who drag the bodies of enemies tied to their pick-up bring back to life the ugliness of the Trojan War.

In France therefore, politicians, senior officials, prominent figures of industrial and financial world are not ashamed to be at the same time intellectuals, with deep roots in the European cultural tradition, enough to confound, occasionally, persons who, evidently, becomes more and more unfamiliar with that culture. Funny and significant, the misunderstanding of a sentence of Emmanuel Macron, who, during a recent summit in Brussels, would have said that the enlargement of the EU toward east is now “the theology of Europe”; but the French president said in fact “teleology”, a word unknown to the present journalists, who have promptly corrected it with another one, more familiar.

What’s going on in Italy, the cradle of Humanisms, which can boast a large number of students (more than 50% of the entire percentile, a real pathology) registered at the high schools with compulsory Latin – not to mention Greek in the classical sector? The most frequent quotations in the political debate on TV, newspapers and social media refer to … sport, and soccer in particular.

“Penalty”, “The prime minister as the coach of a team”, “corner”, “sit on the bench” and so on … “footballing”.

The degradation of public debate, from linguistic and paradigmatic point of view, is lying on the mat. We run upside down, more and more reaching trash talk, pliant dialogues, and solecism, due to a misleading desire “to move towards the people”, as if the “people” were an inactive crowd, that can only feed itself with baby food. So, many are proud to speak as everyone, to be as everyone, denying the need to form and to maintain the élites, that must underlie any democratic regime.

The trend towards language simplification, lexical depletion, conceptual flattening, typical of advertising slogans, is the same that enhances and spreads the all-pervading presence of the so-called “pundits”, who are able to speak about everything, without knowing anything, who, to misquote Carl Kraus speaking of journalists, “speak because they have nothing to say and have something to say, because they speak.”

This trend, if stubbornly pursued, will bring necessarily to a total aphasia.

Claudio Salone

Professor of ancient literatures, Rome -

Insight - Free thinking for global social progress

Free thinking for global social progress