My mother tells a funny story about a linguistic mix-up.

A couple she knows were going skiing with some friends and taking their daughter along with her boyfriend. The day before they left, the daughter broke up with the unfortunate chap, but since the holiday had been paid for in its entirety, he came along anyway. Having never skied before, and being on holiday with his now-ex-girlfriend and her parents, he was understandably looking glum while nursing a pint in the bar one evening when one of the family friends came over and commiserated, saying how miserable it must be for him. “Oh well,” he replied, “déjà vu…”

 In fact she has a number of similar stories (perhaps being, like the contributors to RFP, not entirely innocent of linguistic snobbery), my favourite of which being the man who was discussing some business project or other and assured her that it would be finished soon, although he had “a few hurdles left to iron out.”

These kind of unfortunate errors have a special place in the heart of British humourists, from Shakespeare to Private Eye’s Colmanballs series, which runs to 14 volumes.

Last year, England footballer Rio Ferdinand memorably opined that, in the absence of Manchester United captain Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs had reallytaken on the mantelpiece.”

We in Britain have, however, been comparatively starved of such gems in the political arena during the eight year extended run of the Malaprop-in-Chief across the pond. Whilst John Prescott’s mangling of the language often used to raise a chuckle, one felt somewhat reassured that he wouldn’t be allowed nearer the levers of power than the bus timetables, or possibly as Tony’s impromptu bodyguard if fisticuffs were required in the chamber.

Amid all the paeans of praise surrounding inauguration of the new era in America (and the sad demise of the accuracy of Tupac’s “Changes” as a political tract), it seemed as if there was going to be an end to the “mis-underestimation” of the art of rhetoric, and “subliminable” linguistic confusion.

One can’t help but feel that this would make political discourse in the English-speaking (or at least quasi-English speaking) world so much the poorer.

But at least Joe Biden seems to have stepped up to take on the mantelpiece.

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