Lineker, Language and Debate

In writing this, I have to confess that I’m not a fan of Gary Lineker, and have never watched ‘Match of the Day’. Since we’re dealing with today’s instant readiness to ‘take offence’, let me make it clear that this isn’t personal criticism, but a statement of fact and nothing more. As it happens, I’m into the tougher, and more nail-biting, arenas of international rugby union, and T20, ODI and test cricket ! As a blogger, I’m into use of language and expression of opinion and that, not politics, is what this blog is about.

So I’m interested in what Mr. Lineker actually wrote in his now (infamous to some) tweet. He wrote about “language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the ‘30s.” I have to say that I find myself in agreement with Barney Ronay’s good advice (in Guardian Sport) that “it would be good generally if people could stop using Nazi Germany as a kind of bad things emoji. Better to explain and use detail. Save Nazi Germany. Keep it in your back pocket for those occasions when only Nazi Germany will do. In doing so he offered up an opportunity. And an opportunist will never miss one of those.

But, to focus on the language as such, as someone who, in writing blogs, tries to be careful about choice of words and turns of phrase, it does seems to me that Lineker has been similarly careful. The phrase “is not dissimilar”, to me, is not saying that one thing is exactly the same as another, but only that there are (arguably) some similarities. I use the word ‘arguably’ because the tweet seems to me to be not a wildly excessive statement but a carefully measured opinion which is therefore, of course, open to the challenge to produce the back-up evidence on which it’s based. 

Having that debate, in my view, would be far more potentially fruitful than the current increasingly strident brouhaha fuelled by the depressingly ever-growing ‘silence them, ban them, sack them, birch them and lynch them’ brigade, who are ever on the watch for the slightest opportunity to ‘take offence’. When some people, it seems to me, who would claim to value free speech, encounter opposing views, the last thing they actually want is debate, but rather partisan censorship and total control. 

They need to grow up and get a life, and allow other people to live theirs without being regularly and predictably threatened, bullied, ostracised and sometimes, sadly, successfully silenced. I want to live in a country that celebrates freedom of speech, and values the growth in mutual understanding, and in fresh knowledge and insight, that comes from open-minded discussion and debate. I’m holding on this vision, but not my breath.

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