As a Matter of Fact…

Just to clear something up.

According to some (mentioned in a Breaskfast News piece) David Cameron referring to asylum seekers as a “swarm” is just “plain speaking” and “telling it like it is” – those phrases being the world’s most common euphemisms for assholes to excuse their asshole-ness.

But no.

No it isn’t.

Plain speaking, if it has to be anything, is factual, non-emotive, and free from connotation, simile and metaphor. It doesn’t have to be restricted to the most common 1,000 words in the language but it should stick closely to a few simple verbs and nouns common enough to be used without ambiguity, as close to their literal definitions as possible. And since humans can’t literally swarm because the primary definition of “swarm” refers to insects, calling a group of a people a “swarm” isn’t plain, nor matter-of-fact.

The connotation of the word is that people are now insect-like, insignificant, worthy of extermination and brutal inhuman treatment. Anything in “plain English” shouldn’t have such connotation.

I have no problem with David Cameron calling people a “swarm”. I have no problem with people using words outside their literal definitions for effect – it’s the joy of speaking something as wonderfully incoherent as English. But don’t deny this is what you’re doing. Don’t pretend that you’re not doing it, or pretend that you’re speaking plainly when you’re riddling your rhetoric with bullshit.

“The cat sat on the mat” is plain, matter-of-fact speaking. “The bloody mongrel dragged its scabby, sordid arse all over my nice new rug” is not, quite obviously. “The cat squatted on the mat” alters it less with a slightly negative connotation, “the cat postured on the mat” alters it for a slightly positive connotation – yet the facts do not change. It’s also no accident that the terms “climate change denialist” and “climate change skeptic” are used on different sides of the fence (though I’m obligated at this point to mention that one of those is more appropriate than the other).

“A group of people”, “many people”, “people,” or “X-thousand people” is matter-of-fact. “A swarm” or a “hoard” is something else that implies more by association of the words with concepts outside of the mere facts at hand.

So if you’re one of those people who likes to “tell it as it is”, I hope this helps.

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