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“Clear communication expresses clear thinking, while muddled communication reflects muddled thinking” Writing Success Program at UCLA
(The English Language) becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. George Orwell
You've probably heard or heard about this conversation between US assistant secretary of state, Victoria Nuland, and Geoffrey Pyatt, US ambassador to Ukraine before reading this post. A couple of questions naturally come up, for example, how did the Russians get access to the conversation and is this a little sample of access they have acquired from Snowden or could they have done this before he arrived on the scene?
My answer? I haven't a clue... all I can say is that Putin seems to be very, very, lucky these days.
What really brings me to write about it is the language these people use. By this I don't mean Victoria Nuland's, now famous, "fuck the EU", for me that is about the only really simple and declarative, proper English sentence in the entire recording. Here is a sample of what I mean:
Voice thought to be Pyatt's: I think we're in play. The Klitschko [Vitaly Klitschko, one of three main opposition leaders] piece is obviously the complicated electron here. Especially the announcement of him as deputy prime minister and you've seen some of my notes on the troubles in the marriage right now so we're trying to get a read really fast on where he is on this stuff. But I think your argument to him, which you'll need to make, I think that's the next phone call you want to set up, is exactly the one you made to Yats [Arseniy Yatseniuk, another opposition leader]. And I'm glad you sort of put him on the spot on where he fits in this scenario. And I'm very glad that he said what he said in response. BBC - Transcript
Here is the quote that has grabbed the headlines and done the most damage:
Nuland: OK. He's now gotten both Serry and [UN Secretary General] Ban Ki-moon to agree that Serry could come in Monday or Tuesday. So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and to have the UN help glue it and, you know, Fuck the EU. BBC - Transcript
Refreshing clarity there... In the following snippet, Ambassador Pyatt outdoes himself in mixed, muddled and mangled metaphors.
Pyatt: No, exactly. And I think we've got to do something to make it stick together because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude, that the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it. And again the fact that this is out there right now, I'm still trying to figure out in my mind why Yanukovych (garbled) that. In the meantime there's a Party of Regions faction meeting going on right now and I'm sure there's a lively argument going on in that group at this point. But anyway we could land jelly side up on this one if we move fast. So let me work on Klitschko and if you can just keep... we want to try to get somebody with an international personality to come out here and help to midwife this thing. The other issue is some kind of outreach to Yanukovych but we probably regroup on that tomorrow as we see how things start to fall into place. BBC - Transcript
I think it could be seriously maintained that many if not most of the endlessly repeated and disastrous failures of American diplomacy in recent (and not so recent) years can be explained by the mental activity, or lack of it, of people who produce language like this. DS