A little post-debate refresher on ‘A Civil Tongue’ from Edwin Newman
today at 10:50 am
If, like me, you’re still recovering from trying to understand the presidential debate last night, you may enjoy a little reminder of what the expression “a civil tongue” means and some examples of it. Luckily, I still have Edwin Newman’s book, “A Civil Tongue,” handy. Here are a few calm examples from the early pages. As Newman writes:
“Fortunately, practitioners of a civil tongue do exist. A reporter asked the head of the AFL-CIO, George Meany, for his analysis of the elections of November 1974. What was the people’s mandate? Said Meany: ‘I don’t believe in this mandate stuff. A guy runs for office and gets elected. All of a sudden he’s got a mandate. Two less votes and he’s nothing.’ A good mandate is hard to find.”
(Two fewer votes, actually… but I enjoy the wit of the last line.)
“A civil tongue knows when to remain silent. Over the years, heads of state and heads of government have convinced themselves that their countries will lose prestige, and so will they, if they do not claim the right to deliver tedious speeches whenever possible. At the United Nations the consequence is that everybody assures everybody else of the need for peace and justice and progress, and archives result. In September 1974, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau of Canada decided not to speak because he had nothing sufficiently important to say. Trudeau’s gesture was little noticed. It should have made him immortal.”
I still find people arguing that Canada and the U.S. are not very different. Now, especially in the light of last night’s debate, I have more information to argue that we are very different countries. Sigh.
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