Category Archives: Politics

Britain’s three dumbest languages of government

When people think of the British languages, the most common ones to talk about are the big ones: English, Welsh, maybe Scots, Cornish, and Gaelic. But there are other languages in this country, that get used to a greater or lesser degree.


Little information is available about the early language of Somerset and Devon. Except that appears to have been part of a Celtic language that was spoken in Cornwall and Brittany. A Joseph Biddulph has published a small pamphlet which theorises on the language, and claims it as the language of Devon. Beyond this, there’s been no serious attempt to revive the language, which almost definitely went extinct in the early medieval period.

It’s a little odd,but this language was used in a legislature as recently as 2002, when a west-country UKIP MEP called Graham Booth gave his maiden speech to the EU parliament in Old Devonian. He wanted his speech to make fun of the European unity, it’s perhaps a shame he choose to do this by drawing attention to the fact that at one stage his constituents had been closely related to people across the channel.

Law French

Norman tapestry of soldiers
“A ceste Bille les Seigneurs sont assentus!”

Norman is still spoken in Normandy, and in the Channel Islands. But it’s also regularly used in parliament. It became an official language in 1066, for reasons the should be obvious. While usage of it didn’t take off in Britain as a whole its use by lawyers and rulers meant that it developed a set of phrases that were useful for law. It was used in courts until 1362 and lectures and debates for trainee lawyers were held in it until the 16th century. It was still in use in a degenerate form as late as 1688.

The last proper record of Law French comes from marginal notes written by Chief Justice George Trelby, they read:

“Richardson, ch. Just, de C. Banc al Assises at Salisbury in Summer 1631. fuit assault per prisoner la condemne pur felony que puis son condemnation ject un Brickbat a le dit Justice que narrowly mist, & pur ceo immediately fuit Indictment drawn per Noy envers le prisoner, & son dexter manus ampute & fix al Gibbet sur que luy mesme immediate- ment hange in presence de Court.”

Even though Law French was described as archaic and unhelpful 700 years ago, it’s still used in Parliament to describe the passage of a Bill into law.

Basic English

Basic English was an attempt to simplify English for people who didn’t speak it as a first language. It had only 850 words and a grammar which was meant to be easier to learn than the English one.

The first person to mention the language in the British parliament was Sydney Silverman, a backbench Labour MP who began his career as a conscientious objector in WWI and ended it in CND. He was mocked by Churchill for his comments at the time, but obviously won him over in the long run because debates over Basic English continued in parliament throughout World War II. Proving perhaps that even during war-time, parliament has time to waste.

IngSoc PosterA white paper on encouraging the language for use in administration was written in 1944 and in 1947 the government paid £23,000 to obtain the copyright on the language. The Basic English Foundation was formed in 1947 and seems to have run until 1971. The closest thing we have to a legacy is George Orwell’s satire of it, NewSpeak.

I don’t know if anyone ever suggested translating Norman French notes into Basic English, but they should have done. It would have been excellent opportunity to replace an old stupid tradition with a shiny new stupid tradition.


Five people who are leading the way out of civilisation as we know it

All over the world, there are people who have come to the conclusion that modern industrial society is a bit shit, really. As we begin to understand the impact of modern society and the dangers that we inflict on ourselves, it could be tempting to dream of withdrawing entirely from the whole stinking game.

And there are people around who have done that. Here are some of my favourites:

1. Sue Woodcock, hermit in the Dales

In 2004 Sue Woodcock, a retired policewoman, spent her savings on a rayburn cooker and some rare sheep, and moved to the Yorkshire Dales. She referred to the world she’d left as “that England” and claimed to have no morals, because that’s something society enforces on you.

She’s more of a Hermit than a primitive, her lifestyle involves meeting very few people, she generated her own electricity and got water from her own well. In 2011 she was looking into selling up and her lifestyle now seems to involve trips to the shops to buy wine-racks.

2. Emma Orbach, mud hut dweller

orbachEmma Orbach was the daughter of a wealthy musician and got an education at Oxford. She left England with her husband, originally to set up a self-sufficient farming community, but then she split off from that to get even more back to nature. For the past thirteen years she’s been living in a mud hut in rural Wales.

She doesn’t allow tractors onto the land, grows what she needs and does all of her own repairs. It sounds like this isn’t just a withdrawal from society, she hopes that living simply will help humanity see what’s possible.

3. Tom Leppard, most tattooed man in the world

Tom Leppard, 'the Leopard Man of Skye'Tom Leppard, the former most tattooed man in the world, lived alone on the island of Skye, Scotland. He lived alone for twenty years, only travelling to the mainland by kayak once every week to collect his pension. In 2008, at the age of 73, he left the islands and moved to a one bedroom house, claiming that it was getting too dangerous to kayak into town when he needed to.

4. Will Lord, primitive skills teacher

Will Lord, of Beyond 2000 BC is not entirely primitive as such (I mean, he has a website and does TV work) but he’s one of the people in the UK that teach and retain old skills used by “primitive” people, such as flint knapping, constructing, bows, bushcraft, etc. These skills are interesting for people who want to be able to make and use their own tools.

The main argument for these skills is that, while lots of tools that even the people on this list use are cheap to get the industries that produce them aren’t sustainable. This has lead people to develop an interest in making their own tools.

5. John Zerzan, theorist of primitivism

John Zerzan is worth mentioning here as the main theorist of Anarcho-Primitivism. He has some followers in Britain. My main memory of them is seeing big piles of pamphlets they’d put together, and being told they’d formed a production line to make them.

Perhaps the problem with the anarcho-primitivists is that they have a difficult choice to make. The tools you need to spread an idea are the same tools you need to spread your message. So do you compromise your lifestyle to convince others, or do you live by your ideals even though one person doing it won’t save the world?

Leppard eventually had to give up his extreme lifestyle when he couldn’t support himself alone. Emma Orbach’s lifestyle is only possible because she was originally part of a commune that could defend their rights against outsiders. So it seems that people who want to withdraw from civilization may want to be a role-model for others, but they still need sympathetic allies who are still inside civilisation if they’re going to be successful.