IF last week’s Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis was remarkable for anything, it was for the clichés. Now, the dictionary defines a cliché as ‘an overused phrase or an opinion that betrays a lack of original thought.’ On the basis of meeja reports, it seems that hackneyed opinions were flying about like snots off a slate, and no one minded!
For example, in an attempt to deflect criticism of Fianna Fáil’s role as a Blueshirt mudguard, Our Mickey (leader of Fianna Fáil) declared that the party needed to give the Fine Gael government space to deal with a possible British withdrawal from the EU – which was nice of him. Consequently, he did not support motions of no-confidence in the government (the Irish one) because it might trigger a general election in this country.
The way he said it grabbed our attention, particularly the clichés. He warned that if we were ‘in the teeth of an election, we would not be able to put through emergency legislation in the event of a no-deal Brexit.’ For him that was ‘a no-brainer.’ What’s more, he was sure the Irish people understood ‘the existential threat’ the country faced. And that was ‘the long and short of it all.’
Six overworked phrases in two sentences: ‘in the teeth of,’ ‘putting through,’ ‘no-deal Brexit,’ ‘no brainer,’ ‘existential threat’ and ‘long and short’. Not bad! And the amazing thing is that we knew exactly what Mickey was talking about, although we were not too impressed by his oratory.
He kinda lacked that Churchillian ease in using language to the best effect. This was due largely to the fact that his platitudes were dreadfully hackneyed and commonplace.
Grating on nerves
Sadly and inevitably, it doesn’t take long before Mickey’s unoriginal clichés begin to grate on the nerves. Nevertheless we accept the argument that most Irish politicos aren’t natural orators and, unlike the Edmund Burkes and the Éamon De Valeras, they tend to flog the auld cliché to death.
The problem with politicos who resort to clichés to get their message across is that we can’t take them seriously, largely because the literal meaning of their statements generally has nothing to do with the intended meaning. And while we’re not suggesting that Irish politicos are as illiterate as Donald Trump, they’re not far off – excluding Our Mickey, of course.
Political discourse, you see, is riddled with clichés. Does it worry Irish people? Not excessively, although in Mickey’s case his banalities become a barrier to communication and people tend to tune out whenever he’s gasbagging. That’s a pity.
Of course, something similar takes place among those dreary media hacks and hackettes who everyday offer dry-as-dust analyses to their editorial-gods on high. Journos, let’s face it, increasingly bore the punter with overworked stock-phrases. (Exceptions, of course, are the silver-tongued, linguistically multi-faceted scribblers and scribes of this distinguished newspaper, The Southern Star).
Mickey’s recent use of the word ‘existential threat’ is a case in point. It’s a new political cliché. Referring to Brexit, he said: ‘The people understand the existential threat that the country faces.’
Indeed, Mickey’s new best pal, Colum Eastwood, also warned of an ‘existential threat.’ Eastwood is leader of the crumbling SDLP whose 12 MLAs (zero MPs) now have a ‘special relationship’ with Fianna Fáil.
In his case he had in mind the ‘hard border’ which, he said, would come with Brexit: ‘A hard border in Ireland threatens to bring existential threats to many of our industries,’ he warned.
Question is, what by the hokey, is an ‘existential threat’? Well, basically an existential threat is a threat to someone’s very existence or survival which, in light of Mickey and chum’s familiarity with the term, seems to suggest that they know something really important about the future of mankind.
Strange too, that West Cork hasn’t a clue as to the perils the world is facing and neither do the clients of the Cork Arms and Dinty’s. Of that we’re certain and we think they should be told!
On the other hand, could it be that Mickey and the SDLP fellow were referring to the ‘existential threat’ that the United States presents to the world? Did they know, for instance, that the Israelis invented the said cliché for propagandistic reasons and that it relates to the danger to Zionists of a Palestinian determination to recover stolen homes and farms.
Outside of something that threatens one’s life (existence), the term is meaningless.
‘Existential,’ for its part, is merely an attribute of the word ‘existentialism,’ an important 20th century philosophy that deals with some of the fundamental questions about human existence. In its analysis of free will, personal responsibility and the concept of freedom, existentialism can provide an authentic insight into the human condition – and political consciousness.
The sad fact of the matter is that within the Irish political context, Mickey and Mr Eastwood are bowdlerising the phrase and changing it to the point where it loses its original significance and becomes just another trite political expression: illogical, fatuous, and unintelligible.
Some old chestnuts
So, acknowledging that political clichés can reveal a lot about the way a political party thinks, and recognising that politicians are always on the lookout for snappy clichés, we’ve selected some old chestnuts that are still apt and which Mickey and his new Northern friend might find handy for use in their speeches.
Here they are: ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand’ – relevant, we think, in light of the resignations that followed the SDLP ‘amalgamation’ with Fianna Fáil, and which included chairpersons of SDLP Youth, Women and LGBT branches (as well as prominent Belfast City councillor Niall Kelly). Not to mention the very serious FF rumblings down South, regarding Young Dev and crew.
Then there are clichés such as ‘cult of personality’? (’nuff said!), ‘a shotgun wedding,’ ‘a half-baked idea,’ ‘a sticky wicket,’ ‘a blot on the landscape’ – all applicable to Fianna Fáil and the SDLP.
And, if things really go belly-up, there are always these: ‘the writing’s on the wall,’ ‘abandon ship’ and the best one of all, ‘Don’t get your knickers in a knot’!