Sloppy speech is irritating but it’s not the real problem

OUTSPOKEN David Starkey got it wrong on many levels
OUTSPOKEN David Starkey got it wrong on many levels
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Enoch Powell did not actually use the phrase ‘rivers of blood’ in the speech for which he became notorious – as a rudimentary scan of the original text will confirm.

However, this has not prevented it from becoming a form of shorthand for anyone wishing to flick petrol on the flames of racial intolerance.

To his eternal shame, David Starkey used it as a gratuitous means of drawing attention to himself in a Newsnight debate on the street riots.

The point he went on to make about increasing numbers of white youngsters adopting the slang and sloppy diction of a particular form of black culture was entirely valid.

But it had absolutely nothing to do with Powell and the warnings of racial conflagration he espoused more than 40 years ago.

Quite the opposite, in fact, because a cursory examination of the television coverage showed that the yobs rampaging through our city streets were an eclectic mix of genders, ages and skin colours.

But historian Starkey is right about the sullen, aggressive mode of speech favoured by many of the urban young, and their dependence on the ubiquitous ‘innit.’

I reckon Radio 4 should pioneer a new quiz show for youngsters called Just a Minute, Innit in which there are Xboxes and trainers to be won by any kid who can talk for a minute non-stop without using the wretched word.

Intensely irritating though this affectation may be, it’s only speech and young people have been adapting the mother tongue to their own ends for generations.

As far back as the fifties, terms like ‘daddio’ and ‘cool man’ were infuriating the older generation, while young people in the sixties came up with so many new phrases they almost reinvented the language.

The rising inflection at the end of a sentence, making everything sound like a question, has been with us for 25 years (thank you Neighbours) and shows no signs of abating.

So let’s get past the verbal idiosyncrasies (vexing though they may be) and deal with the real problems.

Then we can start to put the last few distressing weeks behind us, innit.