Thursday, November 17, 2005


The weekly reflections of Johan Maurer, a US Quaker writer and academic, are always worth reading. This one links the depth of tradition with something very topical, reminding us that it is action and character which gives the lie to, or supplies the truth of, what comes out of our mouths and keyboards...

The first time I wrote about plain language, it was a reflection on the meaning of plain language in Quaker culture. Now I'm writing on plain language as exemplified by the word "torture."

These are not unrelated themes. Early Friends wanted to be plain in the sense of "transparent"—for the ego and its external vanities to get out of the way so the Holy Spirit could shine through. Similarly, words were to be vehicles for truth, not for lies (hence no double standards for public speech, no oaths in the courtroom) nor for idolatries (hence no days and months named for pretender-gods). Even some of our humour is based on this "plain" concept of bald truth. "A flock of white sheep," says one Quaker passenger on a train to the other, pointing out the window. "Yes, they're white ... at least on this side," responds the other.

The word "torture" has been a fine example of plain language. Now, thanks to our nation's administration, even the word is being tortured, and I have lost my sense of humour. In the service of the latest imperial presidential philosophy, the White House spokesman is put into the impossible position of denying the plain and obvious facts: his bosses want the freedom to go beyond the boundary that the Geneva Conventions have set. [Continued here]

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