A Word in Your Ear


A report on the wine trade in the Examiner the other day - beg pardon, there is no wine trade in the Examiner - a report in the Examiner on the wine trade last Friday - beg pardon, the wine trade is a year-round thing, not a mere Friday bagatelle - look, we better start again: a report in the Examiner on Friday last regarding the wine trade informed us that "the Irish pallet is becoming more sophisticated".

It is, and about time. Those wooden jobs were all right in their day but they could be a terrible nuisance. The weight alone was a killer. Them lads would take your leg off, or even your head, if you were unfortunate enough to get in the way of a fork-lift whizzing about with a pile of pallets on board. Fortunately we now have the new plastic jobs which are a lot lighter and easier to stack and a damn sight more stylish.

But words, is it. Don't be talking, man. You saw the right mess I got into with the very first sentence above there. Putting the right word in the right place is not as easy as it looks.

Elsewhere in the same issue of the Examiner there was a piece about Pat Murphy's new film, Nora, in which an actress was quoted as saying, with regard to the famous openness between James Joyce and his wife, that "there's something quite envious about that".

There's something not at all envious, or even enviable, about the (dis)ability to (ab)use words like that.

God, but the view is great up here on the high moral ground.

But other people would need to watch their language too, from time to time. Politicians are a case in point. The former Labour TD and consultant psychiatrist Dr Moosajee Bhanjee noted recently that "every profession has its jargon, but the political one is bizarre".

It's not simply a question of politicians lying all the time, or opening their mouths just to insert their feet. It's sometimes the language they choose that jars.

Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins, for example, usually talks a lot of sense, but he has some odd fixations.

With regard to the recent resignation of CIE chairman Brian Joyce, Joe asked Minister Mary O'Rourke in the Dail if the pay and conditions of Dublin Bus workers were discussed "over lobster and white wine" when she met the former chairman.

Ms O'Rourke merely said in reply that she didn't eat lobster and drank only red wine. But Joe has something of an obsession with the food and drink he imagines are consumed by the wealthy. It isn't long since he suggested in the Dail that "a Budget patently for the rich and privileged was cooked up in a villa in the South of France by the Tanaiste and Minister for Finance along with the steak and red wine".

Joe would really want to watch his language. It is seriously out of date. Anyone who still believes that steak and red wine are the preserve of the rich and privileged is very far out of touch, when the butchers are practically giving away steak and you can buy a drinkable bottle of wine for a fiver. (£4.99 is always a good year.)

No one would dream of calling Joe Higgins a "smoked salmon socialist", but this cherished term of insult, which was once mandatory in some circles when the name of Ruairi Quinn was mentioned, is similarly dated for a similar reason: the delicacy in question has been a moderately-priced supermarket staple for a long time now. "Champagne socialist" does however still mean something, since the better brands of bubbly cost about £25 - and Dom Perignon, popular with the genuinely rich and privileged, fetches about three times that amount.

Some time ago, when the businessman Dermot Desmond described an unguaranteed loan of £75,000 to his friend Charles Haughey as "insignificant", hands were thrown up in horror and moral outrage. The media rushed to tell us what such a sum would buy, and how it was related to the standard wage - though they neglected to point out that it would be about half the price of a Dublin apartment.

But the plain truth is that to a man who has been a multimillionaire for nearly 20 years (apart from a little blip involving a stock market crash), and who picked up a handy £55 million sterling just a couple of months ago when he sold his stake in Baltimore Technologies, a sum such as £75,000 is nothing if not insignificant. Mr Desmond chose the right word.