A little post-debate refresher on 'A Civil Tongue' from Edwin Newman

A little post-debate refresher on 'A Civil Tongue' from Edwin Newman
Source: Reusableart.com

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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  • This is one of those times when maintaining a civil tongue is a particular challenge. My biggest surprise after the debate last night was to hear Dana Bask of CNN, whom I consider to normally be a quite demure woman, to say of the debate, "That was a s*** show."

  • In reply to jnorto:

    I previously posted "I don't think a synthesis of arguments is possible when one participant is irrational."

    Gov. Pritzker noted something similar in his at home press conference today, to the effect of that some Pennsylvania voter said that it was like an argument with a crackhead (another reference).

  • In reply to jack:

    Thanks for keeping me up to date, Jack. I thought that the governor would be out of touch during his isolation. Silly me.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    This is his second stint on quarantine. Both times he appeared from his home library.

    That reminded me that most Zoom backgrounds are bookshelves. I finally figured out that instead of sitting on the couch with my tablet on my lap, I should prop it up on the dining room table facing my bookcase.

  • In reply to jack:

    Hmm, that sounds good for you, Jack. Unfortunately, most of the several places I keep books are too close to the floor to serve as good backgrounds -- and the other is in a very narrow room. It's tall enough, but I would be in too much of a close-up. I'll have to settle for my over-bright kitchen (to hide a few details) and my dark dresser behind me as my background. Nobody complains... yet.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Oh, I missed that. Wow. I'm not ready to adopt the expression myself, but it seems accurate. Thanks.

  • Stuff has changed, but not as Meany foresaw. The current administration took a 3 million popular vote loss as a mandate to wreak havoc on the country, the environment, the law, public health, etc. Also, good mandates were later discovered on Will and Grace and Modern Family.

  • In reply to jack:

    Very punny, Jack. Well done.

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