Gary Littman


Garry Littman is the owner and director of The Language House in Geneva which organises English language training for professional people, companies and students. He was a radio and newspaper journalist in his native Australia and ran a restaurant in Kathmandu in his younger days. He is an English language trainer and an aficionado of pétanque.

Bare-chested diplomacy with the kings of the jungle

Today’s word of the day is chest, the male chest (poitrine); the sometimes hairy part of the body between the throat and the stomach.

Our Darwinian cousins, the male gorilla, or what remains of them today, like to beat their chests to discourage rivals and assert their dominance. Like Tarzan, we homo-sapiens also like a bit of chest-beating. Take for example, two of the world’s best known bare-chested or topless leaders: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (ex-KGB, judo black belt whose hobby is wrestling bears) and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (university boxer, iron-man who likes to be photographed in his brief red swimmers).

Abbot famously enriched the language of diplomacy this month when he told reporters he would "shirtfront" Putin when they meet at the G20 meeting in November. His comments follow the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine in July, allegedly by Russian-backed rebels. All 298 passengers and crew, including 38 Australian citizens and residents were killed.  

To shirtfront someone is a particularly Australian term, and also particularly painful. It comes from the feverishly popular game called Australian Rules Football, which has little or nothing in common with the game you know as football. It’s a kind of gladiatorial hybrid of rugby and basketball. This is what a shirtfront looks like. If you didn’t quite get the idea, here’s another one.  

Before we continue let me just say that Australian Rules Football involves a lot more… well, okay, a bit more… than transforming your upper body into a deadly missile with the aim of maiming (severely hurting) your opponent. Believe it or not, there are some rules. Here’s an introduction with some delicate string melodies by AC/DC.

Putin took the shirtfront threat on the chin (didn’t complain too much). He said it was "unfortunate". However, the English language version of the Pravda newspaper was quite shirty (annoyed).

The newspaper advised Putin “to wash his hands carefully and sterilise them after touching Abbott’s grubby paw” (dirty soft foot of an animal such as a kangaroo).

Pravda’s salivating editorial writers found a copy of  Roget’s Thesaurus, and went synonym-psycho.

"Once again, we see a country whose political class is divorced from the collective will of its people, yet we see a politician who thinks it is cool to be rude, insolent, insulting, impolite, impertinent, unpolished, gross, unpleasant and downright impudent.”

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was more direct. "If he likes to use sports terms, let him go ahead,” he told US broadcaster CNBC through a translator.  "Mr Putin is quite adept at sports and they could have forceful debates.”

From there it all snow-balled. Both leaders agreed yesterday to finish the G20 summit with a topless mud-wrestling match. No bears and no boxing gloves.

 We will be able to witness diplomacy at its most edifying , informative, instructive, educational, scholarly, enlightening, illuminating and entertaining.



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