Discounting descriptions

These are descriptions that are employed to Discount the importance of an event or series of events. When they are used of civil disturbances they seem – at least many of them – to convey that the disturbance is not the work of the rather dim and placid populace or equally dim students, but rather the result of a nefarious, hidden conspiracy.

The difference is very important. If the populace were actually rioting, then the givernment might have to rethink something. But if it is done by people who are outsiders, then you just have to get rid of them.

So I’ve been watching for the discounting descriptions in the reporting of the current London riots. I have yet to see what might be the ur-discounter, “outside agitators.” Perhaps it has been overused already this year. Still, “criminal element” appeared early. And tonight i saw “an orchestrated plan,” which is a bit subtle. The thing is that organizing is thought to be beyond the populace and students, so that phrase lets you know that you’re dealing with outside agitators or criminal elements.

I am a bit worried about the low number of such phrases. In the days of old fashion student protests, you could be driven up a hall by the repitition of them. So please let us know if you’ve spotted others. It would be helpful to many beleagured members of the press and the police.

8 thoughts on “Discounting descriptions

  1. I find it rather interesting (slash sad) that when there are riots elsewhere, Canada’s Globe and Mail characterises rioters as as ‘protesters’, ‘youths’, ‘rioters’, etc., but when the riots are here at home, EVERY media outlet automatically calls them ‘anarchists’.

    In any case, variations on ‘criminality’ are all that I’ve seen here, although there are a few strictly implicit allusions to ‘anarchists’ (:rolleyes:) when they mention a few people wearing black or covering their faces. Also, if I may quote the G&M quoting someone, then here is the most amusing line I’ve seen in the coverage so far:

    ” ‘A lot of youths … heard there was a protest and joined in. Others used it as an opportunity to kit themselves out, didn’t they, with shoes and T-shirts and everything.’ ”

    I’m ashamed to admit that I kit myself in shoes and a T-shirt every day. =p

  2. Who would have thought that shoes and a t-shirt is now anarchist garb! It seems a very strange time to think everyone else would look as though they are employed in some job requiring more formal dress.

  3. I can’t imagine you kit yourself out with shoes and T-shirts by looting shops every day, though, Michel X…

  4. Further to comment 5, I suspect “criminal element” appeared early because one of the main forms taken by the “rioting” has been breaking into stores, looting them, smashing them up and setting them on fire.

    Are you suggesting that a significant number of these people are students, as in university undergraduates? That seems unlikely.

  5. Darius, “criminal element” should signify much more than possibly transient behavior. In fact, I thought we had learned from “the lottery”, “lord of the flies” and other works of fiction that we could most of us find these criminal urges in us in certain circumstances. I think the commentary I’ve read today about Britain’s hidden underclass is extremely worrying. The Independent is full of this sort of comment. Even with a more stratified society, it is extremely risky to disown a large part of it.

    “student” was a reference to earlier protests.

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