OK. I'll do a week's worth of words and my topic is going to be Words from Brexit.
I'll try to avoid being too politically biased about it but if my own leanings show through then I'll apologise in advance.
Let's start with the word itself - Brexit.
Technically a blend, Brexit is what Humpty Dumpty would have called a “portmanteau” word. It is, of course a combination of “British” and “exit” referring to the UK leaving the European Union. (As an interesting side note there is no separate adjectival form for my country. We use British although that should only refer to Great Britain which, as I am sure you all know, is just the main island consisting of England, Wales and Scotland. By that definition people on other islands, including in Northern Ireland, wouldn’t be British. It has however come to be used as the adjective for the whole of the UK.)
Of course, as with everything else in the unholy mess of Brexit*, nothing is that simple. In the press we see a plethora of different Brexits. soft Brexit, hard Brexit, white Brexit, Jobs-first Brexit, no deal Brexit and so on. Every politician seems to be involved in a race to come up with a new variation. Teresa May even advocated - one hopes intending it humourously, though with May you can't be sure - a red,white and blue Brexit.
The main division is between a soft and hard Brexit. A hard Brexit means leaving both the EU and the European customs Union and trading under World Trade Organisation rules which, according to your political stance is either the best thing that could ever happen to us or the worst economic disaster in the history of finance. A soft Brexit on the other hand would mean leaving the political union but remaining in the customs Union and still having favorable trading agreements with Europe rather than using WTO rules. (A definite “have your cake and eat it” approach.) The more strident voices among the Brexit supporters are dead against this because they want to sever all political and economic ties with Europe and nothing less will, they say, be acceptable.
The other Brexits are all very much variations on a theme.
A number of phrases have come directly from the word “Brexit” such as “Brexiteer” (someone in favour of Brexit), the Brexit bus (a campaign bus emblazoned with the now notorious slogan announcing that we could recover £350,000,000 per WEEK from the EU to spend on our health service - which, after the referendum, was immediately talked back by the very people responsible for it) and, of course, my favourite “Brexit means Brexit” (a meaningless soundbite widely parodied as “breakfast means breakfast”.)
* I can call it “an unholy mess” with no political bias as this about the only thing that the pro- and anti- camps can actually agree on.This message has been edited. Last edited by: BobHale,
Words from Brexit : Gammon
Not exclusively associated with Brexit but certainly frequently used that way this is an insulting term referring to far right supporters of leaving Europe. The word means cured or smoked ham and in its modern slang usage refers to the colour that right-wing, older, white men turn as their blood pressure rises when they become more and more outraged about the supposed iniquities of the EU. It’s a modern usage though perhaps not a modern concept. A traditional French insult for the British is to call us “roast beefs” - possibly because of the ease with which we burn in the sun.
One of the common symbolic representations of England is the character John Bull, always depicted as a stout, elderly man in a Union Jack waistcoat, usually with very bushy sideburns and a florid complexion - so, in essence if not name, the very personification a a Brexiteer.
Charles Dickens also used the term along with an almost supernaturally prescient definition of it in Nicholas Nickleby
“The meaning of that term—gammon,' said Mr. Gregsbury, 'is unknown to me. If it means that I grow a little too fervid, or perhaps even hyperbolical, in extolling my native land, I admit the full justice of the remark. I am proud of this free and happy country. My form dilates, my eye glistens, my breast heaves, my heart swells, my bosom burns, when I call to mind her greatness and her glory”.
I have no idea if the modern use of the term was coined in reference to the Dickens usage or is a coincidental coinage.
There has been considerable outrage by the people who feel they are being mocked who have suggested that the phrase is a racist insult though the sense in which they consider themselves a race is unclear.
There is a phrase with a similar meaning which has been used jocularly for decades - “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” which refers to the kind of extreme reactionary conservative who writes indignant, outraged letters to newspapers on anything - whether important or petty - that annoys him. (There is a long article on the multiple possible origins of this phrase on Wikipedia.)
Those Euro elections are next week. Our Liberal Democrat party is campaigning on a clear "no Brexit" policy.
In fact, they could hardly be clearer. The slogan they have chosen to get behind is "Bollocks To Brexit".
Another word that would have Humpty Dumpty waxing lyrical is “flextension”. They do seem to love these blends in the Brexit process. In case it isn’t obvious it is a mix of “flexible” and “extension”. For once it hasn’t been coined by a tabloid newspaper, not even by someone whose first language is English. The word was used by the Polish President of the European Council, Donald Tusk.
He said, in a speech, “the only reasonable way out would be a long but flexible extension. ‘I would call it a ‘flextension’.”
Let’s briefly look at the background. The Government was due to complete Brexit by 29th March. Teresa May’s negotiation team presented their deal to Parliament several times but were unable to get them to agree and they asked the EU for an extension to the negotiation period. It was granted until 12th April but the same thing happened again and they asked for a new extension.
That was when, possibly with some exasperation, Donald Tusk coined the new term.
So what exactly did he mean?
He didn’t mean a completely open ended extension. He clarified it as meaning that there would be a long, but fixed, term extension but that within that period the UK could leave at any time if we are ever able to agree on it. It was also conditional on us taking part in the European Parliament elections if we haven’t left by the time they happen on 23 May.
It seems to me to be a clever enough coinage but I am getting rather bored with this constant need to invent new words to describe Brexit - especially these portmanteau words. This won’t be the last one on this list.
To understand what the backstop is you first need a primer on the history of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I’m sure you all know that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland is a completely different country. Many years of bitter struggles and terrorism in the region were finally brought to an end by something called the Good Friday Agreement. While the Good Friday Agreement doesn’t specifically say that there can’t be a hard border (i.e. a border with checkpoints for crossing and security and customs checks) there a significant factions in both countries who believe that creating a hard border would be against the spirit if not the letter of the agreement. There is a real chance that fringe groups could seize on a hard border as a reason to start the Irish “troubles” again.
And that’s where the problem starts because if the UK leaves the EU then there would need to be customs checks at the border as the two countries would no longer be operating under the same set of regulations.
Enter the backstop.
This is an idea that while the UK would be out of Europe, Northern Ireland would keep the same customs regulations as Europe meaning that goods could still flow freely between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland without the need for customs checks creating what they have called a “frictionless border”. Of course that’s just moving the problem because it would also mean that goods COULDN’T flow freely between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK in effect creating a new border in the Irish Sea.
It would be a kind of solution but as surely as night follows day, the objections followed as soon as it was proposed. The same people who object to a North/South border naturally object to this new border. Of course they would, a border is still a border even if you put it somewhere else
And this idea of leaving the EU but leaving Norther Irelind kind of half-in, half-out is hated by almost everybody and has been given the name “backstop”.
Another day another Humpty Dumpty word.
Initially the words used to describe those who wanted to stay in Europe and those who wanted to leave were the perfectly sensible “remainer” and “leaver”. The first mutation to appear was for the remainers to dub the leavers “Brexiteers” - which does at least show a certain lexical flair. Well, I say that the remainers did it but it was in fact the pro-Europe newspapers. Newspapers tended to take one stance or the other in the pre-referendum days and have, by and large, maintained those positions. Not much point in listing them as I think I am the only person currently active here who has ever heard of any of them.
Anyway, the coining of Brexiteer was fairly rapidly followed by “remainer” being altered to “remoaner” as the the people in favour of leaving saw the people in favour of staying as being anti democratic in their criticisms in spite of the narrowness of the referendum vote (51.89% against 48.11% with a turnout of 72.21% meaning that only 37.47% actually voted to leave.)
It was almost immediately afterwards that the other papers started using the term “Bremoaner” to describe the remain camp.
There has also been a tendency among leavers to characterise remainers as "left-wing liberal elitists" or "left-wing media elitists, although of course neither term is exclusively used in reference to Brexit or, in fact, exclusive to the UK.
Of course not every newly coined Brexit word has to be a blend. Recently in a last ditch attempt to get support Theresa May has been holding talks with Jeremy Corbyn*. (Talks which failed, incidentally) One sticking point was that she won’t be there forever and that means there is a worry that whoever replaces her can go back on any deal she makes. Given that (God help us) the front runner to be her replacement is arch-Brexiteer** Boris Johnson this would be a real concern as Boris is the British equivalent of Donald Trump - albeit better educated. He would certainly not consider himself bound by deals made by his predecessor.
To prevent this the proposed deal would include legislation to prevent any subsequent leader just tearing up the agreement. It’s not clear whether the term Boris-lock to describe this was coined by Theresa May or by people describing her proposal. It's equally unclear what would prevent such a successor just tearing up that legislation too.
Personally I think this would be useful in a wider context as a word to mean any provision intended to prevent someone overturning a decision in the future.
The leaders of the Conservative and Labour parties, of course.
Well, perhaps arch-Brixiteer would be better replaced by arch-opportunist. Once again I feel I have to present evidence to justify what sounds like a blatantly biased statement. Boris announced that he was backing the Leave campaign in an article published in the Sunday Times. What nobody knew at the time, but has subsequently come out, is that he wrote two columns - one enthusiastically in favour of leaving and the other equally enthusiastically in favour of not leaving the EU. When it came out he claimed that it was just as an aide to clarify his own thinking.
Thank you for this! I love reading about politics from another country, for a change.
Can you imagine a meeting with Boris and Donald? Good God.