Mike Ramsay: Thank you for not minding your language


Mayor Jim recently noted we were like Auckland, but with the caveat we needed to place that comment in perspective.

He then went on to interpret ‘Jafa’ as meaning Just Another Fabulous Aucklander. Of course we all know, as does Jim, that Jafa has an entirely different meaning, but now he’s a politician, he cannot say what he knows!

At least not in public.

Jafa is an acronym that has changed. It used to refer to Australians: “Just another f****** Australian.”

Then we decided Aucklanders were worse than Australians, so we substituted one A for another!

Language has always been in a state of flux. An American correspondent of mine had no idea what “it all went pear-shaped” meant. Another was bemused by the phrase “not too flash”, but when I explained it was a description of Jimmy Spithill’s recent America’s Cup performance, he understood the phrase perfectly.

During the Second World War, British troops in India frequently made derogatory comments about their darker-skinned allies. To neutralise the racist overtones, a decree from high command was issued. In future, all Indians were to be referred to as worthy oriental gentlemen. Thus the acronym WOG was born.

Only the religious seem to cling to past language. They love their “thou, thy and thine” instead of “you and yours”, “shalt” instead of “shall”, “cometh” instead of come, and they wonder why a good chunk of the population thinks they are strange.

Of course religion and race are today’s taboo subjects. Criticism of either gets a combustible response. It’s OK to pillory politicians (except in Turkey and Egypt where you will be detained indefinitely), but religion and race are no-go areas.

Heated arguments inevitably end up with the accusation of racism, or the current favourite: Islamaphobe. Such accusations are not designed to enlighten the listener, but to close down the debate.

It seems we can’t have this debate because too many people take offence at any attempt to uncover the source of people’s angst. During my school years, profanity of any kind was considered as offensive as a racist remark is today. I remember a fellow rugby forward shouting “get the bloody ball out of the scrum”, at which point the referee (an unpopular teacher) blew his whistle, stopped play, and having established who the miscreant was, gave him several strokes of the cane after the match.

An F-word expletive is considered no big deal today, while a criticism of another race or culture is considered a capital sin. Likewise, a caning from a teacher would have the teacher on an assault charge, and a dismissal from his profession.

But back to the politicians. It seems 95 per cent of them are fearful of not getting re-elected. The longer they’ve been in the job, the less likely they are to find meaningful employment after politics.

The more successful cabinet ministers receive sinecures from overseas postings. An appoint-ment as an ambassadorship or United Nations position are considered plum jobs.

A politician who speaks his mind is rare. Whatever you think of Winston Peters, he says what he thinks. On the international stage, so did Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Iran’s Ahmed Ahmadinejad.

Today, Donald Trump is the ultimate blunt instrument, and I suspect it’s a major reason he was elected in the first place.

Folk get tired of listening to the same political psycho-babble and the inevitable inaction that follows. But not you Jim – it’s early days yet!

Mike Ramsay is a keen observer of the Wakatipu