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Forget the Maxim gun, deploy the adjectives!

“Empires were built on exploitation – and adjectives” claims the Guardian‘s Lucy Mangan. Here is the article in which she does it: “Joanna Lumley’s Spice Trail Adventure review – a deeply problematic travelogue”.

Ms Mangan writes,

Generally, the story of a lucrative trade established centuries ago is one of brutal colonisation of the unlucky occupants of a suddenly valuable land – and a rising tide of misery thereafter. Our greater consciousness of this fact makes a visit to such a land by a posh, white lady born in India under the Raj inherently, unavoidably tricky.

Evil Joanna Lumley, arranging to be born in India in 1946.

The revelation that the adjective was the European’s secret weapon all along comes as part of a description of a scene in which Joanna Lumley eats nutmeg and says how much she likes it.

Lumley recommends grating it over your green beans with lots of butter. But first she eats a fresh one. “Honestly, it’s divine.” This is what things are when they aren’t “sensational”, “stunning”, “extraordinary”, “ravishing” or – in the case of the bum-cleaning bucket-and-hose set up on the ferry from Ambon – “enchanting”. Empires were built on exploitation – and adjectives.

I cannot help feeling that this statement from Lucy Mangan is problematic itself. If the English, or in the case of the Banda Islands, Dutch, adjective played a significant part in the subjugation of nations, surely that implies that the native adjectives that failed to stand up to the invaders were less puissant, less krachtig? I am not a believer in the popular theory that language determines thought, but since Lucy Mangan seems to be, someone ought to let her know that the theory implies that some languages are just better than others. Or did Mangan mean that Lumley ought to have been using Banda Malay adjectives rather than oppressive English ones? Wait, wouldn’t that be cultural appropriation? It’s so hard to keep up. Maybe she meant that Joanna Lumley’s sin was to use adjectives at all. Only a Raj-born 1946-ite such as Lumley wastes the people’s oxygen with words like “divine”, “sensational”, “stunning”, “extraordinary”, “ravishing” and “enchanted” when “doubleplusgood” is available, to continue the 1984 theme from yesterday’s post on “doublethink”.

Perhaps I err in trying to ascribe meaning to that sentence at all. How bourgeois to think that an anti-colonialist review of a TV travel show published in the Guardian has to withstand analysis. There was an excellent Newspeak word for phrases like “Empires were built on exploitation – and adjectives”, “duckspeak”, meaning speech that issued from the larynx without involving the higher brain centres at all, like the quacking of a duck. Note that so long as the speech was orthodox, to call someone a doubleplusgood duckspeaker was a term of praise.

19 comments to Forget the Maxim gun, deploy the adjectives!

  • DiscoveredJoys

    Clearly Joanna Lumley is not right-on enough. The Left (this is the Grauniad after all) ends up eating itself. We could ban or boycott nutmeg but who would suffer most?

  • john in cheshire

    For me, this is an example of the infestation of low grade, low IQ and low morals knownothings throughout the lefty tribe.

  • Mike Solent

    “Whatever happens, we have got
    the adjectives, and they have not”

    With apologies to Mr Belloc. As my dear wife has pointed out, not true. It is an unfortunate case of Anglocentric exceptionalism among the British Left when they assume the superiority of their adjectives over those developed by other cultures. They need to pay more credit to Asian and African cultures. One might, in fact, accuse them of blatant cultural bias.

  • Steven R

    When non-whites show up en masse in white countries, it’s just migration and wonderful and diversity is our strength.
    When whites show up en masse in non-white countries, it’s colonialism and evil.

  • Paul Marks.

    The British Empire was far from perfect – but it was normally better than the forms of rule that had existed before it.

    The idea that the British Empire, generally, made various peoples worse off is false – generally the various local peoples were better off because of the British Empire.

  • Paul Marks.

    Steven R. – sometimes the skin colour is not that much different, as with the Europeans who went to live in the lands (largely waste lands – they had been in decline since the fall of Byzantine rule in the area) of what is now Algeria after the French conquest of the 1820s. The local Arabs and Berbers were not black, indeed they despised black people – they still do (see what is happening in Tunisia).

    But I see your point – “French out of Algeria!” was popular cry of the left all over the world – they did not care that the French were born there and had lived there for generations, but if anyone now chanted “Algerians out of France!” they would be arrested and punished.

    The hypocrisy is sickening

  • Kirk

    Y’know… Ever notice that everyone blames the Europeans for being racist bastard colonialists, but nobody ever mentions the obverse, that the people who were colonized were a bunch of incompetents who managed to lose to unwashed bastards who were on the other end of a ten-thousand mile sea voyage, in very small numbers, and whose only advantage was being rather better organized…?

    I mean, let us be honest here: I’m Scots. I don’t blame the English for what they did, I blame my benighted unorganized ancestors who couldn’t get their act together, and spent more of their time in internecine slaughter of their immediate neighbors. The honest fact is, the English did the majority of us a damn favor, getting us the opportunity to get away from those idiots. The Enclosures were an act of mercy; separated the majority of we Scots from our exploitative and entirely incompetent leadership who the English graciously took on as what they were meant for–Low-level exploitation experts and overseers.

    Same with the Irish. What happened to them was their own damn fault, for being such disorganized and grabtastic gits in the first place. I mean, there Ireland was, all dolled up in the greenery, and the locals were hardly doing anything with the place, so… Yeah. What’d they expect, looking all pretty and vulnerable, right next door to those bloody-minded Sassenachs?

    I think there’s an alternative interpretation of history to be made, frankly. The Indians ought to be grateful to the English for them coming in and breaking the mold. Absent their intervention, India today would be a cluster-f*ck of tiny little starveling Hindu and Moslem statelets whose inhabitants would still be under the same Indian native maharajah thumbs they were back in the 18th Century. The East India Company ought to be celebrated for what it did for India, notwithstanding all the various abuses. I dare say that were one to factor in all the crap that the local governing types were putting the Indian people through before the English showed up, extrapolate forward to imagine the English not doing what they did, and you’d likely find that the Indians were universally better off after the Raj than before it. Despite all the various things they did along the way.

    Let’s be blunt, here: Absent European colonialization and all that, most of the world would still be living in a pre-industrial haze of human sacrifice and depravity, alternatively starving and dying of various untreated epidemic diseases.

    I don’t think the “victim” mentality helps one damn bit. Look at how quickly all those colonies backslid, once the Europeans left. Ya think that maybe that was a sign that this evil “colonization” might not have been entirely a bad thing? Would the people complaining about it prefer the alternative, wherein they were still under the thumbs of the likes of Queen Ranavalona? Europe doesn’t get enough credit for eliminating her likes, at all.

  • Stonyground

    Didn’t those nasty colonialists build lots of infrastructure, railways in particular, that those oppressed people have carried on using up to modern times?

  • Stonyground

    Wasn’t there colonialism in the Far East as well? Is it racist to point out that those Oriental folk seem to have made quite a decent fist of it since shaking off the yoke of their oppressors?

  • jgh

    Japan seemed to be doing quite well before the Americans occupied the country, and seemed to be doing quite well after they left as well.

  • Paul Marks.


    I would not say that Japan in 1945 (when American forces arrived) was “doing quite well”.

    Imperial Japan had oppressed its own people for a long time – even back in the 1870s peasants who could not afford the new taxes were told to send their daughters to brothels (that led to a peasant revolt which was crushed), the state education system was indoctrination designed to create fanatical obedience, and the conscription was designed for wars of conquest.

    And how did those wars of conquest turn out?

    Millions of dead Chinese and others – but then millions of dead Japanese and most of the cities of Japan turned to burned out shells.

    So “doing quite well” – no.

    Now if you said that Commodore Perry should not have gone to Japan in the 1850s – then you might have an argument. It was no business of the United States, or anyone else, to tell the government of Japan to “open up”.

    And it is certainly the case that those British officials who thought the coup, based on a forged “letter from the Emperor” in 1868 was not right – were correct. And that coup was, sadly, supported by some Westerners – including some British people (shamefully).

  • Surellin

    Would it be rude to comment that nutmeg is an hallucinogen?

  • bobby b

    “But do we really want her to visit former colonies riven by genocide to look at the tasty ingredients they produce?”

    Ah. It’s more like Mencken’s quote of “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

    How dare we speak admiringly about a place – and about how that place serves our own needs – when we ought to be prostate with grief and guilt at the mere mention of its name?

    There’s a breed of progressive – mostly well-off white women, sorry to say – eager to remind us that every joy of ours comes from someone else’s misery, and that we are undeserving of that joy. They seldom look too deeply into the things that give them joy, of course.

  • bobby b

    Prostrate. Prostrate. Dang.

  • NickM

    You remind me of this.

    bobby b,
    It would appear you failed your prostrate exam!

  • Y. Knott

    The Left (this is the Grauniad after all) ends up eating itself.

    – With nutmeg? { – Sorry; had to! – }

  • Kirk


    The perspective of the average Scot-descended person overseas, after multiple generations separated from the place, is often purely delusional. “Ach, aye… We wuz lairds of the clan!!! We had sheeps, we had lands…”

    Noooo, laddie. Ye had shiite; that’s why your family wound up here, and the lairds wound up as small-time enforcers for the English. The visited upon the Irish all the same things done to your ancestors, and tarted it up as their religious duty to civilize the heathen Catholics.

    My problem is that I actually read the histories, and did some rough interpolation while researching the bastards I’m descended from. I’ve got some ancestors on my father’s side who got thrown out of their lands for being Scottish mad bastards that refused to accept reality, and who then came to the Americas to lord it over some other poor bastards that got themselves sold into slavery by their neighbors in West Africa. Was never too sure I saw them the same, after; were they the “freedom-loving Scots-Irish” of repute, I rather doubt they’d have been engaged in slave-owning plantation management. Which, by the way, was all most of them were, until the Civil War; overseers and managers. Took losing that war before they wound up out West, where they raised sugar beets and exploited Mexicans… Not a proud history of much of anything besides bastardry. The irony that the same people “thrown off their ancestral lands” wound up doing the same thing to multiple others across the American continent ain’t lost on this “person of Scot heritage”, either. From what I’ve been able to find, most of those ancestral types were similarly engaged from the time they left Scotland via Ireland and then to the Americas. Had the stupid bastards worked as hard and well for themselves and other Scots (as opposed to killing and feuding with everyone speaking Gaelic…) they’d have never had an issue with the English crossing the border. The subordination of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales to the English is down to one thing, and one thing only: The English had their sh*t packed together far more firmly, and aside from a couple of occasions, worked together rather more effectively than any of their neighbors. That lesson never struck home for my idiot ancestors, who loved them some disorganized lost causes from Bonny Prince Charlie down to the Confederacy.

    Of course, of late? I’m not sure I’ve done much better, throwing my weight behind the current lot of idiots here in the US “system”.

  • Jacob

    “French out of Algeria!” was popular cry of the left all over the world – they did not care that the French were born there and had lived there for generations, but if anyone now chanted “Algerians out of France!” they would be arrested and punished.
    False analogy.
    The French came from Europe to rule over Algeria, Algerians come to France to look for a decent living under French rule…

  • William T. Reeves

    Up until now Eddie Izzard had me convinced that it was ‘flags’ that led to the colonization of the world. But evidently the British empire was a fiendish? devilish? solipsistic? vocabularian empire. (Help me out here, British friends – I am a mere American without the ability to deploy deadly adjectives much less thermonuclear adverbs).