…is something Toby Young fails to do:
It’s an old article, but I came across it while browsing for news stories about Chris Matthews and his recent memory lapse…
Now, Toby Young is writing in the Spectator here, so I should expect curmudgeonly why-oh-whys in praise of a better, gentler time before… well, before all this unpleasant PC modern guff. You know, women in the cricket club and Indian Independence, all that rot.
But, within that context, what caught my attention about this article was the way it perfectly embodies the phrase, “Divided by a common language.”
I only recently realised the extent to which race has a different meaning in the US. To give a geeky example, when watching that Angel episode, “Are you now or have you ever been”, I’m pretty sure I had to have the “one drop rule” explained to me – and in case you find yourself similarly embarrassed:
(I’m assuming you either a) know the Angel episode I’m talking about or b) don’t mind skipping over references that mean nothing to you or c) will get tired of this blog very quickly.)
Realising that “black” needs some translation between US and UK English came as a bit of a shock. Ok, this translation may only be necessary for the very slow ones at the back (Toby Young and, apparently, me), but it made me think of the many ways in which it’s easy to have a debate with someone in which you’re actually arguing about very different concepts. Sometimes, that makes the argument impossible to have, unless one of you accepts the other’s definition. Or, at least, translate in your head for the sake of argument.
For example, I can’t read a discussion about Obama’s “socialism” without feeling very irritated and confused without translating the UK political spectrum into the language of Republicans vs Democrats. Now, I’m not saying that Obama’s a Socialist in US terms either, but just that I can’t even begin to take the debate seriously until I put it in its local context.
In UK terms, or, at least, in my understanding of that, saying Obama’s a Socialist implies that he sings himself to sleep to the tune of the worker’s flag and has “property is theft” tattooed accross each arse cheek.