Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Lying language

By David Fisher - posted Wednesday, 19 December 2007

In the recent Australian election Julia Gilliard said she was humbled when it became clear that she would be the new deputy prime minister of Australia. It has become a cliché for politicians to say they are humbled when getting news of victory.

My dictionary has two meanings for humble:

  1. To bring down in pride or arrogance.
  2. To decisively defeat.

Nothing had happened to Ms Gilliard to bring her down in pride or arrogance, and she certainly was not decisively defeated.

In contrast John Howard took the news of his crushing defeat in which he even lost his seat with graciousness. He credited those who had helped him in his political career. He acknowledged his staff, his political allies and his family. The manner of his departure from the political scene was a model for candidates in a democratic society. In fact he was humbled. It would have been appropriate for him to say so. Somehow that locution is reserved for those from whom it is inappropriate.

False humility of politicians is not too serious a matter, but the almost obligatory mention of being humbled when winning sets a tone of dishonesty. More important is the concealing of reality by the choice of words used by government to conceal the realities of warfare.

For example, rendition is sending prisoners to other countries for torture. Collateral damage is unintended slaughter of civilians. Senator Eugene McCarthy of the United States remarked that as the Catholic Church dropped Latin the military picked it up.

Australia has a military as countries must have. It is called the Australian defence force. Of course an army must do more than defend. It must at times threaten, attack or occupy. It even sometimes acts as a relief agency in case of floods and other disasters. In fact it would be unreasonable if the military could not perform all these functions. A world where all nations had defence forces and the name meant what it said would be completely safe, as armies could not attack.

The Australian Parliamentary information service could locate no legislation or administrative document authorising the use of the name, Australian defence forces, for the Australian armed forces. The designation of the Australian military as the Australian Defence Force has no legislative or administrative sanction.


The facts of life are simple. We are born, and normally grow old and die. However, the simple Anglo-Saxon word, old, is treated with disdain.

My wife and I recently bought a mattress. The manager of the store took us to one of the sales people and said, "This young couple want to buy a mattress".

I said, "We are not a young couple. We are an old couple who want to buy a mattress."

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

16 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

David Fisher is an old man fascinated by the ecological implications of language, sex and mathematics.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by David Fisher

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of David Fisher
Article Tools
Comment 16 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy