'Thrown under the bus'

The World Today Updated 12 February 2020 Published 9 December 2019 1 minute READ

DUP leader Peter Robinson speaks at the launch of the Democratic Unionist Party Election Manifesto at Wrightbus, supplier of the London Routemaster buses on April 21, 2015

DUP leader Peter Robinson speaks at the launch of the Democratic Unionist Party Election Manifesto at Wrightbus, supplier of the London Routemaster buses on April 21, 2015

The strains imposed on our constitution have seen some antiquated terminology revived. The Opposition reinvented the practice of petitioning Her Majesty with ‘an humble address’ as a way of forcing the government to publish documents.

The new prime minister retaliated with a bit of Norman French, trying and failing to ‘prorogue’ parliament. The obfuscatory language couldn’t obscure his intent, and the Supreme Court would have none of it.

Meanwhile, this column continues its war on business jargon, attempting and failing to ban emails that reach out or circle back. As the year ends, let us add ‘deep dive’ and ‘problematic’ to the banned list. In show business and the handing out of awards in all fields of life, we continued to hear from people who said they were ‘humbled’ when they meant the opposite. The approach of the election surfaced new kinds of jargon, including the use of ‘surface’ as a transitive verb.


Various people were accused of ‘pork barrel politics’ – a baffling American phrase for trying to bribe voters. Some were accused of ‘dog whistling’ – a phrase almost always misused because the point of a dog whistle is that only dogs can hear it. Those accused of it are usually guilty of using language that is rather too obviously racist or xenophobic.

The Labour Party complained that it had been subject to a ‘sophisticated and large-scale’ hacking attack, although the attempt to disrupt its website – by flooding servers with traffic – was neither sophisticated nor a hack, which is an attempt to gain access to private computers.

Quite often we heard about the injustice suffered by the Waspi women, with no attempt to explain that it stands for Women Against State Pension Inequality – the women born in the 1950s whose pension age was raised in 2011.

Then there were the clichés of campaign reporting, the ‘car crash’ interviews and the use of ‘empty-chair’ as a verb. But the prize for the most irritating phrase of the election goes to the tasteless and overused metaphor of throwing someone or some group of people ‘under the bus’. This was so over-used in the case of the prime minister’s betrayal of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party that you need only type ‘DUP thr’ into Google for autocomplete to add the cliché. Let us hope that this public-transport-related violence ceases in 2020.