We were very intrigued to read in the paper this morning about some linguistics experts in Lancaster University (?) who were encouraging politicians to ‘’stop talking as if we are at war and use positive language.’’
They said that ‘’Although hostile language could get across the seriousness of the situation, war metaphors risked encouraging people to act aggressively.’’
They don’t cite any examples of people acting aggressively in the past few weeks, but I haven’t heard any reports from across the water that people have started shooting each other because a politician has said ‘’we are at war with an invisible enemy.’’
On a more serious note, the use of war metaphors is exactly the kind of language politicians need to be using at this time of unprecedented crisis.
Not only are we in a war with the virus, but it is total war, where every sector of society is seriously impacted and has to play its part in the struggle for victory. The Second World War was the last time we in the West have seen our society so disrupted, or our hard-won civil liberties so curtailed.
Politicians in the UK are using war metaphors for three reasons, and all three are perfectly correct in terms of good communications.
Firstly, the use of war metaphors highlight the seriousness of the situation the country finds itself in. It shows that this is not the usual ‘housing crisis’, ‘economic crisis’, ‘environmental crisis’ or any other policy problem with the word ‘crisis’ attached to it. This is different, and it must feel different for people to accept the restrictions on movement necessary to beat the virus.
Secondly, war metaphors will remind people of the last great heroic struggle of the British people in the Second World War. Even nowadays, when history lessons in schools are so undervalued, people understand the struggle people went through in the Second World War and the ‘Spirit of the Blitz’ which was so vital. The message is ‘’we’ve been through hard times before, and we’ll do it again.’’
Thirdly, hammering home the message that Britain is in a war unites the entire nation against a common enemy and encourages the kind of sacrifice and determination needed to win.
Despite what the ‘experts’ at Lancaster University think, it is possible to communicate as if you are in a war but still communicate positively. The experts wanted to use football analogies, such as ‘’equalising after being 3-0 down.’’
Its pretty clear which is more effective.