Mind your language

‘Our’ by ‘our’, Boris’s resignation speech

16 July 2022

9:00 AM

16 July 2022

9:00 AM

There was a word I didn’t understand in Boris Johnson’s resignation speech (in which he did not resign). He spoke of ‘our fantastic prop force detectives’. Prop? Prop forwards, clothes props, proprietors, propositions, propellers? Perhaps they are personal protection officers, though I don’t think those are detectives. Or it might be family slang made up by Wilfred, two: ‘Ook, Papa, prop-props…’

More cunningly deployed in the 900 words of the speech was our. Not just our props but ‘our police, our emergency services, and of course our fantastic NHS… our armed services and our agencies… our indefatigable Conservative party members… ourdemocracy’.

First he had thanked ‘Carrie and our children’. The children were not ours in the same sense as the police were ours – just as we can mean ‘you and me’, or ‘me and them but not you’. The children were his and Carrie’s, the police were his and everyone’s.

Our, as a marker of common ownership, was extended, towards the end, to ‘our natural world’ (in the UK). It was as though, against all evidence, the British landscape was the finest in the world, like the food, weather, schooling – world-beating. The climax was the declaration: ‘Ourfuture together is golden.’ Then he walked away.

The BBC has been trying on the our routine, broadcasting a two-minute film This is Our BBC. It shows snippets of Glastonbury, a streaker, lots of black people, camp people, disabled people, Freddie Mercury and David Attenborough.

This is Our BBC reveals that the BBC is a reflection of who we are, across all our nations. We are here to represent communities,’ said Kerris Bright, the BBC’s Chief Customer Officer. ‘It was great to see a brand-new group of queens in RuPaul’s Drag Race.’

My husband does not believe RuPaul’s Drag Race is great. He does not feel the BBC is his. (Many watchable repeats are sold to broadcasters to which he has no access.) He blames the BBC for projecting a culture he thinks is damaging the nation. ‘It doesn’t inform, educate and entertain as Lord Reith wanted,’ he said. ‘It propagandises, nannies and bores. It unites us, you and me, only in our resistance.’

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