Nov 30, 2014

The power of language - ethnic cleansing

I had an interesting comment the other day. I'll re-post it here so you don't have to hunt it out:

A special language challenge for you, if I may: Your plot summary refers to "ethnic cleansing". There is nothing clean about "ethnic cleansing". How about an alternative, more appropriate term instead? Not easy, perhaps, but worth the effort surely. 

I had a long think about this. If I haven't misunderstood the post, the proposal is that we should not use the word "cleansing" in the context of an activity that involves the persecution of one group of people by another, because the word "cleansing" is intrinsically positive. If we use "cleansing" then perhaps to some people the persecution may sound reasonable, acceptable.

There is something to be said for this point of view. I'm a believer in the weak version of the Sapir-Whorf theory (language influences thought and also some aspects of non-linguistic behaviour) so I can see how this might work. We can see positive examples of this in the changes in attitude during my lifetime towards various groups thanks to the banning of abusive / patronising language about those groups in the public sphere.

So, should a writer avoid using a language chunk like "ethnic cleansing" and look for  / create something else? "Ethnic displacement / expulsion / forced relocation" perhaps?

At the moment  I'm not sure. To be honest "ethnic cleansing" is excellent shorthand and I know my audience will understand exactly what is meant. Nor will they think it is something positive because it has only ever been reported as something bad. If I use another expression the audience will have to pause to try to work out what I mean and I don't necessarily want that.

Nevertheless, I think it's an interesting point and I shall continue to ponder the issue. Any thoughts welcome.

Nov 23, 2014

Lisbon and the relics of the Saints

Relics and busts of saints in St Roque, Lisbon
November has been a very busy month in my bread and butter job, which hasn't left time for continuing the novel. 
However on a trip to Lisbon at the end of October I visited a great church - the Church of St Roque.
Like all towns which were centres of trade in the past, everybody lived in fear of the plague. St Roque was a plague survivor and became the person you prayed to when you were feeling poorly.
In a chapel of this church I found this amazing collection of saintly bones. What made this collection unusual was that there was also an artist's impression of what the saint looked like in bust form, sitting on top of the glass casket with the bones, something I've never seen before. For some reason they all seemed to be female saints in this chapel (and fairly hot saints according to the artist).
Now I'll give you three guesses what Celia and the Colonel are going to find in the hidden chamber in the chapel as described in Chapter 31...