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.

Be careful. Loose language sinks careers

Words are delicious and dangerous. Be careful how you use them. Loose lips sink ships in times of war. In peacetime, loose language (and a Twitter feeding frenzy) sink careers.

In recent days:

Prominent man number one said: “the trouble with working with girls (in a science laboratory) is that you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry”.

Prominent man number two said: Mexican illegal immigrants coming to the USA “are bringing drugs and they are bringing crime, and they’re rapists.”

Prominent man number three tells a taxi driver: “F*ck off and die - and not in that order”.

Prominent global company advertises its new hamburger with a rude double entendre of the f-word: “We don’t give a fork”.

So, which comments do you think were the worst and most inappropriate?

Man number one is UK biologist Tim Hunt, aged 72, who won a Nobel Prize for Medicine. He  made his comments at a global conference of science journalists in South Korea.  

Result: Within hours he lost his university post and was publicly disgraced. He was sunk by a Hitchcockian bird attack on Twitter.

Verdict: Sexist, offensive to women and totally inappropriate. Should have kept his mouth shut. Don’t try to be funny.

The second man is US businessman-showman Donald Trump who made the above comment while launching his bid to be president of the USA.  

Result: Nothing.

Verdict: Racist stereotyping of the highest degree, but typical of this jerk and carnival barker. The media don’t expect him to do or know any better, despite being in the race for President of the United States of America. After all it’s a reality show, isn’t it?

The third man is London mayor, cyclist, potential Conservative party leader and Prime Minister Boris Johnson who was caught on video abusing a taxi driver while on his bicycle.

Result:  Nothing.

Verdict: Angry and insulting language from an official elected by public. But, hey that’s our colourful mayor Boris. He’s a maverick. He’s eccentric. Just add it on to the list of his other odd behaviour. Latest outburst will probably win him support. After all, there is nothing extraordinary about a cyclist swearing at a taxi driver.

Finally, the prominent global company is McDonalds which plays with the hard-core expression: I don’t give a fuck, to promote its hamburgers in Switzerland.

Result: Nothing, apart from a disgruntled Bilan blogger.

Verdict: The banality of profanity. McDonalds gets ‘edgy’ with the f-word. You can’t get any more forking mainstream than that. And McDonalds sends a message to it young market: “We don’t care”. Thanks for your honesty.

So what does this tell us?

We don’t expect our elected officials to behave well. Politicians are morally dubious and expected to behave badly. Not the same for scientists and Nobel Prize winners. These are our role models. Do we have any faith in politicians? Perhaps not, but at least science, we hope, will guide humanity to a better future. Racist and violent language is more acceptable than sexist language, especially when you are addressing an audience of social network savvy journalists. It’s difficult to survive an internet firestorm. It comes thick and fast and burns everything in its path.

Sadly, we have lost the services, at least in the short term, of an extraordinary scientist working for the good of us all. Sadly, the same can't be said of the others.

Meanwhile it’s just another day, another forking hamburger and another slurry of wild and politically incorrect words from Donald ‘show me your passport Mr President’ Trump.

What do you think? Which language is acceptable, and which is unacceptable? Do we care any more? Or we just don't give a fork? And what would happen if we mixed the quotes up and attributed them to different players? Would the furore, or lack of furore, be the same?



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