Saturday, October 15, 2005

A man of unclean lips

So, the Kate Moss story is barely cold and here we are again, on the subject of public statements on the use of drugs. This time it's the Tory leadership contender, David Cameron, who has found himself in the hot seat. No photos of him snorting lines of coke in a dodgy nightclub yet; indeed, no details at all other than a reluctance to answer a throwaway question from a journalist about whether or not he had taken drugs in his youth. He said simply, "I had a normal university experience."

It's a lesson in pragmatics. Work on the assumption that this means he studied hard and ate a lot of pot noodles, and his answer is incomprehensible, breaking Grice's maxim about relevance. That would make him a bit mad, which he doesn't seem to be, so what else could he mean? Well, he seems to be drawing indulgently on the rather quaint old idea that a "normal university experience" involves university students spending their days lounging around on beanbags experimenting with mind-altering substances. If that's what he did, and if it's really as normal as he asserts, what's with the euphemistic concealment? Clinton never really got away with saying he didn't inhale; maybe Cameron is hoping it'll be okay as long as he doesn't say "marijuana"?

It got even more interesting after that, as the second article points out. On Newsnight, when asked again about this, he said "We are all human and we err and stray". Still not a yes/no answer and, very curiously, his words echo the heightened language of the Bible, making it suggestive of a confession, and that in turn echoes the public apologies of a distinctly dodgy bunch of politicians caught in assorted trousers-down positions. Apology by association.

Of course, he could just be avoiding the question in a cynical bid to make himself sound a whole lot more interesting... What do you reckon?

The drugs questions that won't go away

He openeth not his mouth

Grice's conversational maxims


At 5:51 am, Blogger methinks said...

oh! ppl are nuts! so what if he took some drugs or something when he was young. at least he's not doing it while he's at work. it doesn't really make him a criminal or something unfit for the post he has.

that apart, you have a grand blog! in the true sense, with the links, stories, and especially languages!

At 1:32 pm, Blogger suze said...

Julie, dunno if you READ your comments on here - how do you find the time, but I was wondering about that link to Grice's Maxims... there's a comment there to the effect that these are wroth knowing to help you be polite. Is this what Grice wrote them for? Are the meant to be aprescriptive type guide, or are they meant to be based on observations of what ppl do? I tend to avoid teaching them, myself, perhaps due to this ambivalance about what, exactly, they are. Any ideas, anyone?

I guess is depends on what you mean by maxim, as it can be used to mean both a "rule of conduct" AND a statement of a general truth .. hmm


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