Mind your Doublespeak

In most languages, expressions like "Climate change", "Fair trade" and "Infant mortality", among others, have become part of everyday vocabulary. Writing in the Independent, Johann Hari argues that they hide a political agenda that shapes the way we view the world. It’s time to expunge them.

Published on 15 September 2009 at 17:37

So which phrases would I expunge? Here’s a short list. Labelling food as “Fair Trade.” This phrase suggests that paying desperately poor people a decent wage is a gratifying departure from the norm. In fact, it should be taken for granted – the default position of civilised human beings. If we believed that, the labelling would be reversed: it’s all the other food that should be labelled as “Unfair Trade”, “Rapacious Trade”, or “Let’s-Pay-a-Pittance Trade.”

“Infant mortality.” This sounds clinical and antiseptic – who feels moved when they hear it? – when what we are in fact talking about is dead babies. Here’s an example. In Malawi in southeast Africa, the country’s soil became badly depleted by overuse, so the democratic government there adopted a sensible policy of subsidising fertiliser. The nation’s hungry farmers were given sacks of it at a third of its real cost – and the country bloomed. Then the World Bank damned this as a “market distortion” and said that if Malawi wanted to keep receiving loans it had to stop them at once. So the subsidies stopped, and the country’s crops failed. A famine began – and “infant mortality rose”. What we mean is – lots of babies died, totally needlessly. Three years ago, the Malawian government finally told the World Bank to stick its loans, and subsidized fertiliser again. Now nobody there is starving, and the country is the single biggest exporter of corn to the World Food Programme in southern Africa. Read full article…

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