Beppe Grillo revisited

by Mario Fusco

Over the last few years, as an unavoidable consequence of online reporting and blogging, there has been a general degradation in the language of public discourse. For instance, the unmistakable reliance on automatic spell checkers is evident in many stories, and there has been a general relaxation of the rules of grammar, sometimes at the expense of intelligibility.

So, why does the observation above have a place on an Italian blog? Because of the following excerpt (“Crazy days in Rome with papal and political void”, Associated Press, under the byline Victor L. Simpson):

Yet perhaps the biggest gatecrasher of all is Beppe Grillo, who has upset the established order by riding a self-styled “tsunami” of disgust with the powers-that-be and grabbing a quarter of the parliamentary vote.

This excerpt points to another questionable practice when reporting a story, and that is, the use of adjectives which may be “cool” or “faddish” or “catchy”, but that nevertheless present the wrong characterization for the noun they purportedly qualify. It’s as if reporters had a bag of adjectives out of which they randomly pull out something that makes the sentence look good, and the hell with accuracy. This is the only way one can understand the use of the adjective “self-styled” in the above excerpts.

The first problem is the absurd notion of a phenomenon of nature (a tsunami) styling itself such. But, charitably, we can easily get around this by allowing some flexibility to our grammatical constructs. A more substantive criticism would observe that, in truth, there is nothing “self-styled” about Beppe Grillo’s “tsunami”. The “tsunami” is powered from below, by the simmering disgust and resentment that Italians have built up over decades of disenchantment with the political and economic establishment. It has erupted in spite of the inclinations of most Italians, who are for the most part a pacific lot, apt to forgive much and to tolerate more. It is not a “tsunami” engineered by Grillo or a narrow band of his supporters, it is just the opposite: a spontaneous “tsunami” that has carried Grillo and his party to heights they would never have reached otherwise. And it is a measure of the rottenness of the system that Grillo has come as far as he has.

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