Aussie Life

Aussie Language

19 June 2021

9:00 AM

19 June 2021

9:00 AM

The settlement of Christian Porter’s defamation action against the ABC produced the predictable sneering responses from the activists at the taxpayer funded broadcaster. But despite their petty sneers they can’t get away from the key word in the settlement: ‘regret.’ Mind you, they tried. Porter said the ABC expressed ‘regret’ while the ABC said it stood by the importance of the article and denied it had expressed regret about the report. However, the note the ABC has now attached to the report says ‘some readers misinterpreted the article as an accusation of guilt against Mr Porter. That reading, which was not intended by the ABC, is regretted.’ It seems that Porter is better at impartially reporting the facts of the settlement than the ABC. The word ‘regret’ has been part of the English language since around 1500, and the Oxford English Dictionary says it means ‘Sorrow, remorse, or repentance due to reflection on something one has done or omitted to do.’ If the ABC acknowledges that it published an article sufficiently unclear to be ‘misinterpreted’ by ‘some readers’ and now says publicly it feels ‘Sorrow, remorse, or repentance’ over this then the ABC has expressed regret about the published report. And Christian Porter is quite right when he says that his settlement is a backdown for the ABC ‘no matter what way they want to spin it.’

Michael Warner’s new book The Boys’ Club exposes what is being called a ‘toxic culture’ in the AFL. And we are told that Jeff Kennett is working with other AFL heavyweights to bring an end to this ‘toxic culture.’ There has also been talk about (and an inquiry into) a ‘toxic culture’ in parliament house in which staff could be subjected to bullying or harassment. The earliest use of the expression ‘toxic culture’ I’ve been able to track down comes from 2007—so this is a recent concept. The relevant meaning of the word ‘culture’ is ‘the distinctive ideas, customs, social behaviour… or way of life of a particular… people.’ It’s recorded from 1860 in this sense and comes from the much earlier idea of cultivation—something which has ‘grown’ (like cultivated crops). The problem with the phrase ‘toxic culture’ is the context (the AFL or Parliament House or wherever). What it really means in such contexts is: people have behaved badly. But instead of saying ‘people have behaved badly’, the blame is shifted to something impersonal—‘toxic culture.’ One of Jordan Peterson’s big themes is—take responsibility. It’s not some so-called ‘toxic culture’ that’s to blame—it’s people behaving badly… and they are responsible for their decisions to behave badly. In other words, trying to ‘change the culture’ is nuts. It’s time to get the language right and stop excusing bad behaviour by blaming on a ‘toxic culture’ instead of the responsible individuals.

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