Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Bad sentence of the day

Everyone says that Alex Salmond is a political genius. He is so much better at politics than anyone else, goes the consensus. I can't see it, myself. I find his manner bumptious, his tone often patronising, and his words unilluminating. But I know this is one of those things where everyone else is right and I am wrong.

However, I will claim that he cannot write a decent sentence. I have just read the vital premise of the big speech he is about to give on the future of Scotland. This is the fulcrum, the motherlode, the beating heart of his argument. And this is how he expresses it:

"An independent Scotland can be a beacon for progressive opinion south of the border and further afield, addressing policy challenges in ways that reflect the universal values of fairness and are capable of being considered, adapted and implemented according to the circumstances and wishes within the other jurisdictions of these islands and beyond."

This is just awful. How do you address a policy challenge in ways that reflect the universal values of fairness? What even is the universal value of fairness? Fairness is fairness; it does not contain universal values; it is a intrinsic thing.

I don't know much, but I know a bad sentence when I see one. If I had a blue pencil, I would write; TOO LONG. If you can't break it up, at least use a couple of semi-colons, for sheer breath. In my cross blue pencil I would write: BE SPECIFIC. I would put all this in capital letters because I would be so grumpy, and the rotten prose would be making my eyes hurt.

I would say: adapted and implemented just sounds like you are holding a meeting of middle managers. I would scribble: what does 'the other jurisdictions of these islands and beyond' even mean? I would scrawl: why use ten words where one would do?

What's wrong with saying:

An independent Scotland shall be a beacon of fairness. It shall be a haven of progressive thought.

Or something. Just don't bloody address policy challenges.

I know Alex Salmond probably does not write his own speeches. But he reads them. If he is willing to commit such bland, predictable, horrid hurt on the English language, then I am going to judge him for it.


Eilean Donan castle, photographer unknown.


  1. You are not wrong. He is bumptious and annoying, and you have just shown very clearly that he cannot write a proper sentence. My only tiny comment is that the second sentence of your lovely summary reads "It shall be a have of progressive thought." I'm sure you mean "haven", but the incisive nature of your comment lost some of its sharp pointiness with this teensy typo. Sorry to be pedantic!

    1. Jennifer J - THANK YOU THANK YOU. I am always getting furious with other people for sloppily written sentences, and you are right that one typo ruins EVERYTHING. I am only thankful that it was on the littler blog, which still has a very small readership, so few people will have witnessed the shame. Please never apologise for being pedantic; the sharp-eyed readers rescue me from public humiliation. :)


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