Friday, May 20, 2005

The mother of all smokescreens

So, whatever you think about the political stance of the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, George Galloway, as a student of the English language you've just gotta admire his style - er, especially if you're about to take an exam in language and power! Called to stand before the US Senate, arguably one of the most powerful institutions in the world, he was accused of the kind of fraternising with Saddam Hussein that could land him in prison. Scary stuff. And how did the honourable gentleman react to that? Did he offer his interlocutors any kind of verbal respect, any kind of linguistic convergence, to try and appease them? Did he hell!!

His speech is an exercise in powerful language use. Never once weasling with his words, he directly accuses the Senator conducting the enquiry of being "cavalier with any idea of justice", his government of human rights abuses, and their decision to go to war with Iraq based on a "pack of lies". In two places his use of American expressions - "a thin dime" and "the mother of all..." - might make you think he is trying to accommodate the speech style of his hosts, but when you read these in context, his utter contempt for them is so plain that these apparent accommodations are a form of ridicule.

Galloway's style is a really interesting mixture of high rhetorical device (go through and count them - they're all there!!), formal lexis "you have traduced my name", and vernacular idiom "cock-a-hoop", "heart and soul", "my life's blood". Your interpretation of those linguistic facts is likely to be coloured by your political judgement, but for me, the use of such vernacular grittiness in that context is a wholly admirable sticking up of two fingers to authority. Check it out and post us your thoughts...

Galloway v the US Senate: the transcript

More on rhetorical devices


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