Aussie Life

Aussie Language

20 February 2021

9:00 AM

20 February 2021

9:00 AM

A Speccie reader has asked if it is linguistically permissible to label the tactics of climate catastrophists as ‘brainwashing.’ The expression is first recorded in English in 1950 and is an American translation of a Chinese phrase. An early example of its use is Ed Hunter’s 1951 book Brain Washing in Red China. The original meaning focussed on the systematic and often forcible elimination from a person’s mind of all established ideas (that’s the ‘washing’ bit) in order to impose other ideas. But it is now seen as covering a wider range of tactics. For instance, Longman’s dictionary says that ‘brainwashing’ now covers making people believe something by ‘continuously repeating it over a long period of time.’ And the alarmists certainly seem to be involved in the kind of ‘brainwashing’ that consists of sheer, exhausting repetition. This explains the escalation of their language from ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change’ to ‘climate emergency’ to ‘climate crisis.’ The result seems to be that there are some who have not only been brainwashed, they’ve been dry-cleaned and pressed!

Students in NSW will not lose marks in the HSC English exams for poor spelling, punctuation or grammar. According to the NSW Education Standards Authority the kids are being tested on their understanding of books and poems – not how well they can explain their understanding. Why does common sense tell us this is wrong? Because ‘English’ is not the full name of the subject, it’s an abbreviation. The full name is ‘English language and literature’. It makes no sense to try to assess the understanding of literature in isolation from the language. The study of English has two goals:  a) to introduce students to the rich heritage of literature in our language and b) to help prepare them for working life. You can’t do a) without teaching the precision, depth, richness and power of the language. To study poetry with no proper grasp of grammar, spelling and punctuation is nonsense. (You can’t even understand e.e. cummings without understanding that he deliberately eschews standard punctuation.) And b) will only happen when the English language becomes an effective tool in the hands of these kids. If it’s not, that will reduce their usefulness to potential employers. The technical word for correct spelling is ‘orthography’ – and orthography matters.

James Morrow has drawn my attention to the expression ‘petro-masculinity.’ This means, apparently, a macho way of showing contempt for the environment by driving a gas guzzler that pours the maximum amount of fossil fuel-based pollution into the air – intentionally creating the largest-possible carbon footprint. It seems that Aussie bushies in their utes are deliberately driving climate change as a display of their masculinity. The earliest citation I can find for ‘petro-masculinity’ is from feminist academic Prof. Cara Daggett in 2018. By 2019 it was turning up on the ABC arguing that leaving fossil fuels in the ground would rob these undesirables of both power and money. Emasculate them, in other words. And you thought that a beat-up old ute with a blue cattle dog in the back was just part of the landscape in the bush! Perhaps the last word on ‘petro-masculinity’ is Jeremy Clarkson’s famous remark that: ‘I don’t have a carbon footprint. I drive everywhere.’

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