Tuesday, April 23, 2024

SATURDAY’S CHILD – Beating around the bushes


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Catch-phrases and slogans don’t have to make sense – they appeal to the imagination instead of the intellect. They grab you because they have an arresting turn of phrase, a novel form of expression, or make you see the familiar in a new way. They resonate by making the ordinary seem extraordinary.
In advertising you have KFC’s “It’s finger licking good” and Coca Cola’s “It’s the real thing!” At first it sounded truly horrible but then it grew on us – Motorola’s “Hello Moto!” Visa is “everywhere you want to be” and Duracell boasts “No battery is stronger longer.” Perhaps the most potent of all is the Yellow Pages recipe for success, “Let your fingers do the walking”.
On local television Sportsmax boasts, “No games, just sports”. However, few people really analyse the slogan – they hear it and let it go because it sounds good.
A television channel boasts that it is “not reality but actuality”.  Nobody has ever pulled out the Thesaurus and waved it at the slogan writer. The slogan sounds good and they let it pass.
The present Prime Minister of Trinidad during her campaign used a line originally coined by George Bush when he, too, was on the campaign trail. According to Wikipedia, “‘Read my lips: no new taxes’ is a now-famous phrase spoken by then presidential candidate George H. W. Bush at the 1988 Republican National Convention as he accepted the nomination on August 18.
“Written by speechwriter Peggy Noona, the line was the most prominent sound bite from the speech. The pledge not to tax the American people further had been a consistent part of Bush’s 1988 election platform, but its prominent inclusion in his speech cemented it in the public consciousness. The impact of the election promise was considerable, and many supporters of Bush believe it helped Bush win the 1988 presidential election.”
So far, so good. Initially the line was as memorable in a positive sense as John Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”; Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”; Harry Truman’s “The buck stops here” and Barack Obama’s “Yes, we can”. 
But then circumstances changed drastically. Wikipedia states, “Once he became president, however, Bush raised taxes as a way to reduce the national budget deficit . . . This reversal caused great controversy, especially in the more conservative wing of the Republican Party. Although technically there were no new taxes in this agreement, Bush in the same speech also ruled out raising existing taxes.
“In the 1992 presidential election campaign, Pat Buchanan made extensive use of the phrase in his strong challenge to Bush in the Republican primaries. In the election itself, Democratic nominee Bill Clinton, running as a moderate, also pointed to the quotation as evidence of Bush’s untrustworthiness, which contributed to Bush’s losing his bid for re-election.”
“Read my lips: no more taxes” has now joined less illustrious company and ranks with the infamous “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” (Clinton), “I’m not a crook” (Nixon), “Mission accomplished” (George W) and what Ronald Reagan described as the most terrifying words in the English language, “I am from the government and I am here to help”.
Already, those who know history are picking on the Prime Minister for attempting to repeat it verbally. The political opposition used a “Yeah, right” approach to her “Read my lips”.  Up jumped the Minister of Sport to her defence. In Parliament he pointed out that the lips of persons of East Indian descent (the Prime Minister, for example) are thin.
However, as someone of mixed descent but whose lips genetically are consistent with his African heritage, specifically his Tobagonian father, his lips were easier to read and he then repeated the mantra or error or whatever of slowly pronouncing the “Read my lips: no more taxes”.
In the old days, a Trinidadian with a thick lip would be told, “They should change your name to Lipton” or “You try liposuction?” Some would go even further: “Boy, if an ant start walking across your lip by the time it reach the other side it would be a bachac (a three centimetre-long leaf cutter ant well known in Trinidad)”; or “If somebody start to sail around your lip with a pirogue by the time it finish it would be a battleship.”
However, the parliamentary opposition went a different route and accused the minister of not speaking the truth when he claimed that he was a member of that party, and joined the governing party out of disillusionment with the corruption in the construction of the Brian Lara Stadium. 
The opposition supposedly provided what it claimed was proof that far from jumping on his own free will, the minister was actually pushed. The moral of this story, for politicians in the Caribbean and everywhere else, is “Look before you lip”.


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