Thursday, December 2, 2010

Diplomatic language

A whole lot of American diplomats have spent this week fuming over the demise of a golden age, when diplomatic communications were private. Since Congress, Senate, the White House, Sarah Palin and FOX News are united in their condemnation of Wikileaks, you might think its days were numbered. And sure enough, the US is throwing a lot at Wikileaks - from character assassination and prosecution of its founder, to cyber-attacks that it would undoubtedly describe as terrorism if they were directed at a US government site, to para-legal shenanigans aimed at destroying its hosts.

And so far, the Internet has interpreted each of these attacks - correctly, I suspect - as a publicity stunt.

But even if they did bring down Wikileaks, they'd just be shooting the messenger. Leaks have always happened. If you think you can commit something to writing and share it with tens of thousands of people, but not with the world - you're kidding yourself.

When the British ruled the world, we knew this. Which is why our diplomatic communications were couched in, let's say, careful language, so that it would not cause much embarrassment even if it did leak. Apparently the blunt, plain-speaking, tell-it-like-it-is US State Department has forgotten the use of "diplomatic language" in private communication. So here, in the interests of world peace, is a quick refresher:

Don't saySay
foaming at the mouthdistressed
demanded the immediate invasion of Iranproposed an urgent realignment of Shi'ite regional authority structures
... using nuclear weapons...... urgent siliceous realignment...
leeringly offered to buy my daughterexpressed a wish for closer familial interaction
leeringly offered to buy the president's daughter... at the highest level

Your colleagues will know exactly what you mean, but when your memo inevitably winds up on the front page of the New York Times, your interlocutor won't mind as much. With luck, they might even keep talking to you.

You're welcome.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

*snicker* thanks. ... urgent siliceous realignment...