A study by academics at York University has identified some 30 'old' words in the English language that they feel are worth promoting for everyday use. They include 'nickum' (a cheating or dishonest person), 'rouzy-bouzy' (boisterously drunk), 'ruff' (to swagger or bluster), 'ear-rent' (the effect of listening to trivial, incessant talk), 'dowsabel' (a sweetheart) and 'percher' (someone who aspires to a higher social status). But perhaps the most apt term for the present is 'betrump' (to deceive or cheat). It's good to know that it was lurking there in our history waiting for a timely reappearance.
Many people feel strongly about language and a report of the York study on the BBC website attracted more than 250 comments. Some of these came from prescriptive pedants, airing their strongly-held views about linguistic usages that they find particularly offensive. Others questioned whether a few of the words had actually gone out of use: for example, 'slug-a-bed' (a person who lies in late). A minority celebrated the richness and diversity of the English language, pointing out that it was evolving all the time, introducing new coinages and resurrecting words that had gone out of fashion. I was encouraged to attempt a few definitions inspired by our current political scene:
Rees-Moggify: to adopt an archaic style of dress, speech and mannerism in an attempt to make oneself seem interesting.
SNiPe: a political tactic to deflect attention from one's own failures by constantly attacking other parties.
Jezzalite: an unstable explosive material that ironically promises a brave new world of peace and harmony.
Maybits: suspicious packages found in George Osborne's freezer.
The latest poll on the extent of religious belief in Scotland has predictably led to differences in interpretation. Figures released by the Humanist Society Scotland, which commissioned the survey, suggest that nearly three-quarters of Scots say they are not religious. This is a higher proportion than that found in the 2016 Social Attitudes Survey where the figure for non-believers was said to be 58%. Before any firm conclusions could be drawn, there would have to be a detailed study of the precise wording of questions, the choice of respondents (including sample size) and methods of analysis.
The humanists have, however, used the findings of the latest survey to question whether official statistics give an accurate reflection of the current position and to challenge the role of religious representatives on public bodies. They state that there should be a clear separation of church and state. The decline of religious commitment, they argue, means that there is a strong democratic case for ending the privileged status of religious leaders.
Responses from the two main churches in Scotland naturally resist this conclusion. The Church of Scotland acknowledges that membership and attendance at church have declined but argues that 'spirituality in people's lives remains important.' It also points out that people of faith are strongly represented in many worthwhile voluntary activities, such as running youth groups, operating food banks and supporting dementia sufferers.
Likewise, the Catholic church suggests that the question, 'Are you religious?,' is simplistic. It does not lend itself to a binary 'Yes/No' answer. Faith can find many forms of expression beyond regular church attendance and public declaration. The rational and material world cannot satisfy all aspects of human aspiration.
Some non-believers come across as just as dogmatic as fundamentalist Christians. The Daily Mail journalist, Stephen Daisley, has written that 'We are becoming intolerant of faith, its practice and even the very idea of it. Freedom of conscience, once fundamental to liberal thought, is increasingly scorned as an excuse for bigotry.' He concludes, with regret, that 'Religion is dying a death as a force in public life.'
There seems to be a crisis of political leadership in Britain. Let's start with the contest for a new leader of the Scottish Labour party. When Kezia Dugdale announced her resignation, two potential candidates, Alex Rowley, her deputy, and Neil Findlay, a high profile figure on the left of the party, immediately ruled themselves out. Perhaps they were influenced by the short-lived and unsuccessful terms of office by Kezia Dugdale's predecessors, Jim Murphy, Johann Lamont and Iain Gray.
Nonetheless, two people have stepped forward for the challenge. Anas Sarwar has been an MP at Westminster as well as an MSP at Holyrood. Already, however, his credentials to lead the party have been questioned. His personal wealth has been seen as a disadvantage by some Labour traditionalists, especially as his family business does not have a record of recognising trade unions. His decision to send his children to independent schools has also been mentioned as diminishing his credentials to lead the people's party.
The other candidate, Richard Leonard, has strong trade union links, having served as an organiser for the GMB union for 20 years. However, although he is well-known within the Labour movement, his public profile is limited since he was elected only in 2016. He also suffers from the perceived disadvantage of having been born in England. If elected, he can look forward to that fact being regularly highlighted by some nationalists.
At UK level, within the Conservative party, leadership issues are also a source of discomfort. Theresa May's position as prime minister was seriously weakened by her ill-judged decision to announce a general election when she needn't have done so. Since then, there have been regular reports of discontented back-benchers, not to mention cabinet colleagues, threatening to oust her. The latest manoeuvre has come from Boris Johnson. His long article in the Telegraph, arguing that Britain can have a prosperous future outside the EU, has been cited as evidence of a leadership bid, an interpretation denied by his supporters. Given Mr Johnson's track record of calculating and opportunistic moves, that denial is less than persuasive.
Are there any counter examples of 'strong and stable' leadership which might serve to challenge the notion that there is a crisis? SNP supporters would be quick to nominate Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. It cannot be denied that both attracted strong popular support for a time. But Mr Salmond's time ran out at the 2017 general election when the voters of Gordon rejected him, with a swing of more than 20% to the Conservatives. And Ms Sturgeon's star also seems to be falling. Party membership is down and her personal popularity is waning, with a growing perception that her fixation with independence has meant major policy promises have not been delivered.
What conclusion can be drawn? All those who aspire to, or achieve, political leadership are now viewed with deep suspicion. Their motives are questioned and their vulnerabilities seized upon. The track record of some politicians serves to justify these responses. But they also reveal a disturbing lack of trust in the political process as a whole, an attitude that could pose a serious threat to representative democracy.