‘Used’ misused

27 Apr

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 15.47.08 Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 15.49.18

Hmm, not quite. There seems to have been a lot of this coming across the desk recently: politicians “using” speeches to say things. It used to be that speeches were only ever “made”; now, more and more of them are apparently serendipitous opportunities to be taken advantage of, as though every speaking engagement offered an open platform and a plastic audience, waiting for a politician to set the debate.

It’s a minor point, but the two aren’t quite co-terminous. It’s correct to say “use” for some occasions – for example, major set-piece speeches that exist on the calendar as regular events. When President Kennedy exhorted Americans to “ask what you can do for your country”, he was speaking at his inaugural address: something that all new presidents can be expected to make, but whose content depends entirely on the speaker. That, had anyone been using the phrase at the time, would have been a good example of “using a speech” to rally the country. And on a slightly less elevated note, when George Osborne announced the re-privatisation of Britain’s nationalised banks, he did so at the 2013 Mansion House speech – again, an annual diary event at which the chancellor is expected to appear and say something, but whose agenda is left entirely open.

However, if there’s no such diary event in prospect – if the opportunity to speak has to be created out of nothing – the term isn’t nearly so accurate. If Jeremy Corbyn is standing in front of a backcloth saying LABOUR IN FOR BRITAIN while making a speech about staying in the EU, or Michael Gove is urging Brexit in front of a huge banner saying VOTE LEAVE TAKE CONTROL, that’s not using a speech; that’s making a speech. Those addresses aren’t open-mic nights in neutral venues, they’re campaign stops: media opportunities where the event has been created for the message, not the message for the event.

There’s a difference. Or there is at the moment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if usage makes it blur.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: