THE MOORE THINGS CHANGE: Language and the PM
By Carl Moore | Sun, April 29, 2012 - 12:00 AM
In times of plenty it would be a joy to have Freundel Stuart as one’s Prime Minister. Unfortunately for him, he has arrived at a time of intellectual drought, coupled with economic hardship.
To use a comment I heard over 50 years ago: “A man has no time for Shakespeare when his belly is empty.”
The Prime Minister in his recent trip to Washington, DC, served up a metaphorical gem with imagery of nipples becoming sore resulting from too frequent use.
He told the gathering, most of whom were Barbadians: “So you can see how many people want to nurse the Government and by the time all of this is finished our nipples are bound to be very sore, but we will do our best in the interests of the people of Barbados.”
The Prime Minister’s metaphor took me, not in the presence of a woman who has only two breasts and seldom has twins to suck on them, but in a pig sty where a sow is struggling to feed her newborn litter.
Sometimes there are more piglets than she has teats. In pain, she shoves them away and gets up and leaves them: her nipples are sore. I’m told that the teats of a sow can be quite variable in number – from four to 30!
I didn’t see a woman’s breasts in the Prime Minister’s metaphor and, unlike talk radio host Pat Hoyos, I found the figure of speech most appropriate, witty and graphic.
So many are sucking on Government’s nipples, they must be sore by now. The most inflamed nipple would have to be the National Insurance Scheme.
People who practise the joys of figurative language – as well as those who enjoy reading and listening to it – have been having a hard time in Barbados for the past 40 or more years. The Prime Minister must be aware of that.
A Prime Minister once promised to “move Heaven and earth” in order to get a job done on time, signalling his intention to pull out all the stops, (to use another figure of speech), and hordes of Bible-wielding evangelists, bishops who appeared by the process of one-hour martinizing and sundry prophets warned that he was flying into the face of God, risking eternal damnation.
Talk-radio moderator Peter Wickham drew an allusion to “the sheep and the goats” as he referred to the process of children moving from primary to secondary education and a regular babbler launched a week-long assault, accusing him of “calling the people’s children sheep!”
A few years ago, after Al Gilkes was almost tarred and feathered after using a nifty turn of phrase in his weekly newspaper column, I advised him not to try that too often – someone might actually do it to him.
To my mind, one of the most graphic metaphors came from Ulysses S. Grant commanding one of his generals, Philip Sheridan, during the American Civil War (1861-1864), to rout the Confederates and destroy the Shenandoah Valley.
He sent this message to Sheridan: “Turn those fertile fields into a barren waste so that crows flying over it for the balance of this season will have to carry their provender with them.”
Barbadians don’t handle abstract language very well. If it isn’t literal, forget it. That’s why our calypso lyrics – except for a very few – are so banal and direct and bereft of subtlety.
Figurative language in the age of Twitter, where all you need to get over an idea is 140 characters, is the equivalent of feeding caviar to cattle.
At this rate, are we ever likely to see at work devices such as metaphor, hyperbole, euphemism, litotes, oxymoron, satire, pun, allegory, alliteration, metonymy, synecdoche, irony and the several others that enrich the English language?
Even onomatopoeia – the one most familiar to us in the Bajan dialect – is on its way, “bash-ow!”, out the window.
Keep ’em coming, Prime Minister!
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