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December 21, 2011

Happy Christmas … And I Mean This

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The Christmas issue of The Economist has a piece on euphemisms. Euphemisms are things you say that soften your true meaning. Now, I think of myself as someone that normally favours plain speaking. Interpreted consistently, that suggests I would avoid euphemisms. Not so. I am British, after all, and the British invented insincerity.

Here are my three most frequent ways around the truth. If you are a student and you've had a letter from me, you've almost certainly met at least one of these before.

Thank you for your request.

This really means: "You're wasting my time." Here's another:

I should be glad if you would" (do something).

This really means: "Do it. Now!" (As does "It would be most helpful if you could".) And one more:

I realize you will be disappointed by this outcome.

This really means: "I'm impressed you made the effort to write your idiotic suggestion down in words."

To conclude, let me offer all my readers:

Very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

Which really means: "I want food and drink in front of the telly. Leave me alone!"

I am a professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick. I am also a research associate of Warwick’s Centre on Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy, and of the Centre for Russian, European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Birmingham. My research is on Russian and international economic history; I am interested in economic aspects of bureaucracy, dictatorship, defence, and warfare. My most recent book is One Day We Will Live Without Fear: Everyday Lives Under the Soviet Police State (Hoover Institution Press, 2016).

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