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John Simkin

Sexed Up

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There is a letter in today’s Guardian from a man who argues that the Hutton Report highlights the problems of using trendy language when precision of meaning is crucial. He is referring to the fact that Andrew Gilligan used the term “sexed up” in his broadcast.

This is a new phrase that has no clear common meaning. In his report Hutton has defined the phrase as meaning “to embellish with items of intelligence known or believed to be false or unreliable”. If he had defined the phrase as also meaning the “omission of words and phrases to distort meaning” he would have probably made a different judgement on the case. Then again, one could argue that his definition of words has helped him produce a very subjective and biased report.

What do teachers think the phrase means? Or will we in future accept Hutton’s ruling on its meaning?

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Guest ChristineS

I haven't see that letter but am intrigued now. I have no firm idea what it really means and suspect that different contexts and users would give it slightly different meanings.

I would have assumed it to mean, not so much embellish with items known to be unreliable (isn't that called lying?), but to over-emphases those aspects which make a certain point of view look more attractive and - as you suggest he might have interpreted it - ignore or omit those aspect which don't suit the preferred viewpoint. Less an act of outright lying and more a case of deliberate bias.

I wonder if most of us would see it the second way? That would indicate some sort of consensus on meaning if we did, and thus might suggest the judge is out of touch with modern vernacular and his judgement therefore a touch unsound. (Heaven forbid we suggest judges could be out of touch.)

Your post has provided me with an interesting introduction to an A level Language lesson and a lead-in to further research for my students. Cheers! :rolleyes:

Edited by ChristineS

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Whitewash is another interesting word. As David Chapman has pointed out: “Whitewash applied carefully and thinly, will last years. Too thick and it will flake off in no time.” The Warren Report was of the thin variety, the Hutton whitewash has indeed been painted far too thickly.

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Hi John,

Here in North America we've been increasingly subjected to use of this term in the media. It has generally been attributed with connotations you've suggested apply: To glamorize or unduly exaggerate a claim is to "sex it up" according to the most vogue etymology (if such terms may be fairly used with respect to "slang" phrases like this one.

What's next one wonders -- will we be seeing things sexed up and down? Such copulatory jargon appears to butter the cumquats of a good many rotters these days!

Cheers!

Roger

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Yes John, we currently have the slang term 'sexed up' in vogue as it were among several journalists and it is I must say a bit farcical. The next thing you know they'll be sexing it up and dumbing it down or visa versa and then we'll have bumbed down sexed up chop logic! Where's the provoyeurism (my portmanteau word for the day!) in that provocative bit of banter???

lol Seriously, Intelligence reports confirm that Bush's IQ has been sexed up and dumbed down. But it's only the CIA that says it! lol

Cheers!

Roger :ph34r:

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Guest Andrew Moore

There's nothing new in the process whereby meanings change, both the explicit denotation, and the more subtle connotation.

Behind "sexed up" is an assumption - that more sex is a reason for our approbation. (I can imagine some people for whom "sexed up" would have connotations of something unpleasant...) But the metaphor is vague - does it suggest having more sexuality, more sexual activity, more variety, or some kind of subjective sex-appeal to others?

The simple interpretation of the metaphor is that someone changed some expressions in a document to render it more interesting to journalists.

Even such seeming-solid words as prepositions are subject to this change. Older people like me (OK, chronologically-gifted) will recall that when someone had a choice we said that it was up to him or her. Now one hears, instead, that somehing is down to him or her. Initially this had a slightly different denotation (more or less synonymous with due to), but over a few years it has usurped the sense of the old up to. In a way, the preposition is arbitrary - there is nothing in the nature of choice that equates to greater or less height. But I will keep using the older form.

Today, sitting in on a GCE English language class, I asked the students about Weapons of Mass Destruction, now WMDs - the acronym may suggest that this is the same kind of thing, as, say, DNA. But that abbreviation makes sense for the biochemist (it denotes an objective reality, whereas the full name will not signify much unless we are scientifically educated). But the Weapon of Mass Destruction is a shifting and dishonest term. Mr. Blair has spoken of those that are only "battlefield" weapons (not much mass destruction there, then).

More to the point, there is an Orwellian doublethink at work. Thinking about the war, and trouncing those naughty foreign chaps, we want to glory in our own superior firepower. But we want, also, to think of the far nastier weapons our enemies have (hidden somewhere), for which we reserve the WMD tag.

The cleverness of this spin is that we spent months arguing about whether Saddam did or did not have them, but not about the fact that the term is simply meaningless - as opposed to, say, a specific kind of tank, missile or aeroplane.

Margaret Beckett's contention that Churchill never bothered about such fine details was astonishingly ignorant. The reverse is true - Churchill was attentive to very small details, and, despite his massive (mostly good) effect on strategy and morale, quite often pushed his own pet projects, against the wishes of the commanders in the field.

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