Between the 14th and 18th centuries the English changed the way they pronounced their vowels and hence spelled their words.
The Danish linguist Otto Jespersen called this upheaval the Great Vowel Shift and described it in detail. This achievement earned him countless curses by every subsequent student of English who, like me, had to spend his hormonally active years learning the convoluted zigzags by which every vowel moved from Middle to Modern English.
A much more significant language revolution is under way now, yet taxonomists have so far failed even to find a name for it. I propose to fill this void by describing it as the Great Meaning Shift (GMS), and I hope posterity will treat me more kindly than it has so far treated Jespersen.
Admittedly English words have always been able to change their meaning over time. For example ‘skirt’ and ‘shirt’ used to denote parts of the same garment, and ‘bride’ used to mean ‘cook’, which these days would be wrong not only semantically but also factually.
But what’s going on now is different. Words don’t just change but reverse their meaning – and they do so not gradually but instantly.
Yesterday I observed that in Davespeak the words ‘legal tax avoidance’ now mean their exact opposite: ‘illegal tax evasion.’
But that’s small beer compared to many other terms. ‘Tolerance’, for example, now stands for ‘intolerance’. Specifically ‘religious tolerance’ means intolerance to any public manifestation of the Christian faith and a virtual ban on the display of even discreet Christian symbols. And by ‘intolerance’ I mean not just tacit disapproval but aggressive action, like sacking stewardesses who wear a cross or nurses who pray for their patients.
Or take the word ‘liberal’. In America it denotes an utterly illiberal individual who’s in favour of as much state power as is achievable this side of concentration camps. Alas, across the pond our own Liberal Democratic party does nothing to restore the word to its original meaning.
The EU is among the most active agents of the GMS. According to those Brussels linguists, ‘pooling’ means ‘abandoning’, as in sovereignty. ‘Integration’ means ‘disintegration’, as in nation states. ‘Bailout’ means de facto colonisation. And, as we’re finding out, ‘free trade’ stands for ‘trade war’, while a ‘free-trade zone’ in reality means a ‘protectionist bloc’.
EU fanatics will talk your ear off about freedom of trade being the principal reason for their beloved political setup. To the accompaniment of that deafening bleating the EU introduces one protectionist measure after another.
Some, such as those aimed at destroying the British finance industry and thereby our whole economy, don’t provoke retaliation in kind. But countries retaining more gonadal fortitude than a Britain led by Dave and Nick don’t mind going to trade war if sufficiently provoked.
Back in the 90s the US and the EU were engaged in a trade shootout over B & B (as in beef and bananas). Now the Chinese have responded to EU anti-dumping tariffs on solar panels by imposing a levy on European wine.
This measure is likely to have the same effect on say France, as the Franco-German taxes on financial transactions will have on the City of London. In both instances the blow will fall on the country’s key industry.
The Chinese warned they had ‘many other cards to play’, clearly referring to slapping a customs duty on the import of German cars – another attack by a key market on a key industry.
The EU has been for years accusing China of not being a free market, with government subsidies for financial services and raw materials cited as the most blatant offences. The accusations are of course true, but the words ‘kettle’, ‘teapot’ and ‘black’ immediately spring to mind.
What about all sorts of European banks, including our own? Didn’t they receive a bit of a leg-up, just as their customers were finding themselves on the receiving end of a leg-over? Of course they did.
And what about the EU’s cherished Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)? You know, the subsidy that amounts to a third of the EU budget, the one that pays the French to grow and harvest their wine, while paying the Italians to grow and not to harvest their vegetables?
Of course you know it – after all, you contribute your share to the billions paid into CAP by British consumers.
It’s interesting to note that the Chinese are ready to take the EU at its own word. Doesn’t the EU claim it’s a tightly knit unit in which different components are all fused into one, a sort of de facto United States of Europe?
Fine, say the Chinese. So if Germany moves to protect her solar-panel industry, we’ll retaliate against those French clarets and Burgundies. In other words, any protectionist action by one EU member can trigger off a massive trade war against all.
In such a war Britain can find herself among the collateral damage, a bit like an innocent bystander hit by a stray bullet in a Mafia shootout. This is something we can ill-afford, considering that China is almost as a big a market for us as the EU itself.
This is as good a reason as any for us to show this abomination a clean pair of heels. Then we’ll be able to remind the world what free trade really means – after all, Britain practically invented the concept. As a result the UK would become much more and the GMS considerably less. Worth having, if you ask me.