Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

`SMOKING is unacceptable to this council,' said the chief executive of the Labour-controlled Welwyn and Hatfield district council. `What our staff do when they are off duty is up to them but while they are on duty it is inappropriate for them to smoke.'

There in two sentences we find two of the favourite new terms of corporate disapproval: unacceptable and inappropriate. Not wrong or illegal or forbidden or prohibited or even dangerous or loathsome, just unacceptable or inappropriate. In sporting or policing circles it would be totally or way out of order.

But just as inappropriate is used as a condemnatory catch-all for acts otherwise not culpable, so it is used as a euphemism for truly shameful behaviour. Mr Clinton has put the word on the historical chart by applying it to what he got up to with Monica Lewinsky, which in the telling is pretty hair-raising stuff.

It is all a matter of not saying what you mean. `Welcome to this smoke-free sorting office,' says the sign on the door at the bastion of the Post Office in south-west London at Victoria. It is a sign more minatory than warm.

`Thank you for not smoking,' it says pathetically in smokehating taxis, where, as yet, the law allows paying passengers to do what they like. …

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