Aussie Life

Aussie Language

29 January 2022

9:00 AM

29 January 2022

9:00 AM

Here’s a delightful expression I have just encountered: ‘offence archaeology’. This is the practice of going through the social media history of a public figure to take offence at things they have said in the past. Many millions of social media users at one time or another have posted something about which someone, somewhere will be huffy. And, since the Internet is forever, you can bet an offence archaeologist is digging into it, particularly if you are a public figure.

According to the Urban Dictionary this involves: ‘Examining the digital past of a contemporary public figure to unearth any statements that might be offensive to the ruling class. These offences are best presented devoid of context or intent, which maximizes the potential for self-righteous virtue signalling among the people who are pretending to be outraged.’ And anyone who has ever posted on social media is a potential target.


The late Sir Roger Scruton was a distinguished English philosopher who specialised in traditional conservative views. He became a victim of offence archaeology after he was appointed to advise the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government as the unpaid chairman of a new public body to champion beautiful buildings. The offence archaeologists—who are notably left-wing—began digging. Politically incorrect phrases were unearthed, torn from their original context, and passed around like a shame file. Sir Roger was also one of the most brilliant, articulate, and wide-ranging intellectual figures in the English-speaking world—a man of intelligence, sensitivity, and political courage. In the 1980s, he worked tirelessly and at great personal peril behind the Iron Curtain to help those fighting against the totalitarian jackboot of communist tyranny. Which made his attackers appear ridiculous to everyone but themselves. But where so many other victims of offence archaeology eventually apologise for past statements, Scruton did not, although he did resign from the body to which he had been appointed. Offence archeology wins again. That is the ugliness of the world in which we live.

The Economist ran an article about the over-use of the irritating word ‘like’, except that—strangely—the magazine didn’t seem all that irritated. The article made the point that ‘like’ is used by the younger generation as a ‘discourse particle’. That means it is just a small bit of language used to hold a sentence together. Which is fair enough. But it is the way it’s used that can become annoying. The so-called ‘Valley Girls,’ from the San Fernando Valley in California, are supposed to have started the craze by saying such things as, ‘It’s like five miles away…’ or ‘He’s like a consultant…’. Sometimes ‘like’ is used to introduce a quote. That gives us such deathless prose as, “She was like, ‘You can’t do that’, and I’m like, ‘Yes, I can’”. (That use of ‘like’ was popularised in Australia by the character of Kylie Mole played by Mary-Anne Fahey on The Comedy Company.) It is sometimes thought to go back to the Beatnik era of the late 1950s and early 1960s — the days when Maynard G. Krebbs, played by Bob Denver on The Doby Gillies Show, was saying things along the line of, ‘Like, wow, man’.” All of us use discourse particles from time to time such as ‘so’, ‘but’, ‘then’ and others. The problem with like is that it appears to be the only discourse particle the younger generation knows and so it is like used over and over and over again. I suspect they’ll grow out of it as they grow older.

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Contact Kel at www.ozwords.com.au

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