Like sunlight to a vampire, these are the words that wither Rees-Mogg (I mean, even more than he already is...)

Humourless Tory skeleton Jacob Rees-Mogg has circulated a list of banned words and phrases to his team of government cronies, the Guardian reported this morning. And included in the offensive lexicon? ‘Due to’, ‘got’, ‘lot’, ‘yourself’, ’understand your concerns’, ’no longer fit for purpose’, and ‘very’. Interesting. Veeery interesting. (Oops, sorry, Moggy!)


Now, most people have their language pet-hates, just as we all prefer certain types of music, clothing and social activity to others. And like all these other preferences, the way we speak is also an expression of our identities. To put a sweeping ban on a number of words - and these words in particular - is revealing of the disdainful way that this monochromatic silent-movie villain perceives the very people he is meant to serve: the public.

‘Very’ - and other intensifiers such as ‘really’ and ‘so’ - have long been considered female features of language. Deborah Cameron wrote in 1994 about the common perception that women’s ‘communicational strategies are ineffective because they are too feminine, lacking the necessary air of competence, seriousness, and authority’. She observes that such prejudice is absolute bullshit (not a direct quotation, actually), but 25 years after her paper, people still make the same assumption. And clearly, this Jacobean antagonist intends to avoid anything remotely ‘soft’ or feminine (not that I’m saying he’s a raging misogynist, but, y’know. He is.)

What’s next? Well, I was amused by the appearance of ‘yourself’ in his hit-list. I expect that what he really derides is young people’s recent mis-use of the reflexive pronoun. It’s favoured by businessy millennials who use ‘yourself’ to generously season their speech (‘I talked to yourself’, ‘In the meeting with yourself…’).

Look. I’ll concede that I find it grating when a candidate on the Apprentice speaks into their upside-down iPhone (why?!) and fires off the ‘yourself’ cannon wherever ‘you’ would be more natural, or - wince - correct, but this is all part and parcel of the evolution of language. The features that start out being wrong become commonplace, and then normal, and then they become correct. As my excellent linguistics lecturer Dr. Lynne Murphy drummed into us all in the year (mumble mumble), English dictionaries are not authorities. They don’t prescribe language from a pedestal, but they listen, reflect and represent the language use that’s actually happening. It’s bottom up. So while it’s tempting to be snobbish about the extended usage of ‘yourself’, it does seem to be on the rise, on its maiden voyage to correctness. Perhaps the crumbly old git would balk to learn that the language he favours was also once new and wrong.

Now to ‘got’. For a split-second, I was puzzled at its inclusion, but then I wondered: is this verbal no-no simply a craving for more complicated, formal language where simple, plain English would suffice? Perhaps he thinks ‘MPs took receipt of unjustifiable financial intensives’ just sounds more elegant than ‘MPs got a massive pay rise’. Or… Or… is it an anti-American thing? Dr. Murphy knows all about this phenomena. Let’s face it: Rees-Mogg’s consciousness is still illegally squatting in the time that the British Empire ruled the waves, so it seems highly plausible that he would consider British English superior to all other varieties. And, in anathema to his soul (hahaha! Like he has a soul!), in the last few decades, Brits have started to ask, ‘Can I get a coffee?’ (possibly influenced by Friends and other US media). Uh oh! Rees-Mogg most likely experiences a violent hernia whenever he encounters this phrase. So please, if you see him, be sure to ask what news he’s got, whether he’s got any meetings, and if not - would he like to get a drink with you?

As for culling the sympathetic cliché ‘understand your concerns’, perhaps this emaciated ventriloquists’ dummy is just practising radical candour. From now on, all replies to constituents’ worried letters about struggling schools and harried hospitals will bypass niceties, and simply comprise a line drawing of Rees-Mogg rubbing his palms together and cackling loudly into the middle distance.

One bit of hope I found in this report, however, is that Old Mogadon despises the Oxford comma. I had already suspected that the Oxford comma was a friend of the good guys, and now we’ve got some confirmation on that.

I need to wrap up because the puppy is about to wake (God help us all) and I could write for days on this subject, but I’ll leave it here: the greatest shame of all in this forbidden words list is with the loss of ‘yourself’. Why? Because now, the Demon Headmaster’s underlings can only tell him to ‘Go fuck.’

Becky Kleanthous

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