A short time ago, Alex Salmond called a Ric Bailey, the political advisor to the BBC, a Gauleiter. The name calling was in response to the fact it was because of this poor BBC chap that Salmond’s place as a pundit during a certain Rugby match had been withdrawn, supposedly because his presence would cause impartiality issues for the BBC, at a time of debate over the existence of the Union.
However, Salmond’s message made me absolutely furious, on a single count; one should never call someone a name like that in a situation like this. It is ahistorical and irrelevant as well as being an inept failure of language and proportion.
To begin, the simile is a non-sequitur. How, precisely, was this poor man like a Gauleiter? From what I have read, Salmond can only have been using the word in its lowest common denominator meaning: ‘someone who is being bossy’. One should never use a word in this way, if the meaning has to descend to the lowest and blandest definition in order for the sentence to make sense, use another word.
Why Nazis anyway? History is full of dictatorships and over-bearing states, pick one; pick one which actually represents the situation. Or, if it has to be Nazis, choose a position with more relevance. Why not describe Ric Bailey as being like an officer of Goebelles’ Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda? An exaggeration, certainly, but relevant.
Moreover, the insult is truly awful at the same time as being so wasteful. Gaulieter is a very important historical rank in that Hitler wanter them to be the supreme authority over affairs in their Gau — like the Medieval barons for which the Nazis had a fetish. This lead to gross transgressions of which an attempt at listing would be an insult. Moreover, to use this insult so blandly is to ignore a layer of subtlety which the term carries. Citing the example of Albert Forster; this man was a horror, murderous and oppressive; however, there was an occasion when, instead of extirpating the Poles in his Gau as he was supposed to, he declared all those who claimed to be German, to be Germans — other ideological sadists like Himmler and Greisler could do nothing. But this is not what Salmond meant, was it?
There is a plethora of historical nouns and adjectives from which Salmond could have chosen a true and proportional description for this BBC guy, but he ignored the immense Greco-Franco-Latin vocabulary which was available, lazily opting for something irrelevant, blunt and close to hand.
As I have complained before, calling someone a name like this is a stupefied over reaction to the perceived injustice. Salmond, choose your insults more carefully, make them proportionate, make them fit. This person was not acting like a Gauleiter, really. What if someone appears who actually acts in a way which warrants such a titanic insult? but you’ve already played your Gauleiter-card! what then?
Potentially, Gauleiter is a great insult, and could be damming if deployed where it is actually descriptive. So use your insults more fittingly, choose every word so as to maximise its nuance and subtlety. Alternately, we could continue to ejaculate potentially fantastic insults which end up being wasted, disproportionate and premature; which, ultimately, will leave us — through the attrition of our descriptive faculties — with a bland and deflated lexis. I make no apology for the lecture.