Politics and the English language — again
New Labour has finally decided to ban smoking in public places, including most pubs and all restaurants. In this they are copying the example of the Irish government, which has had an actual smoking ban in place since last January. The result there has been (in my experience) much more pleasant pubs into which one can now safely take one’s children. And in case you think I’m a priggish non-indulger, think again: I’ve been a keen cigar smoker for decades!
It will be interesting to see how the tobacco and drinks industries combine to fight the proposed legislation. If they follow the Irish example, they will form a lobby group with the word ‘hospitality’ somewhere in its name. (The Irish version was ‘The Irish Hospitality Alliance’.)
This attempt to capture language is an old stunt, well known to George Orwell, who wrote a wonderful essay (“Politics and the English Language”) about it. “Political language”, Orwell wrote, “… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”. Political speech and writing, he says at another point, “are largely the defense of the indefensible”.
So it is with the tobacco lobby. It cannot say outright that it desires to make profits by giving young people lung cancer and heart disease, so it talks about the consumer’s “freedom to choose”. And it suborns words with attractive connotations — like ‘hospitality’ — to serve in its sordid cause. To an Irishman (and indeed to people from many other cultures), hospitality is a sacred thing: it means welcoming people, including strangers, in a generous spirit, and sharing with them what you have. The idea of that a pub owned by a faceless brewing multinational could be ‘hospitable’ is absurd. Strangers are welcome in such establishments in proportion to the amount of money that can be extracted from them. No dosh, no ‘hospitability’.