Gangsters, bullies, liars and thieves

by David Week on 07 March 2011


I’m a fan of political correctness. As one wag put it, political correctness is just another word for being polite. If the citizens of Indian have renamed their city Mumbai, I’ll call it Mumbai, not Bombay. I call the ni Vanuatu the ni Vanuatu, not Vanuatans. I don’t refer to adult women as girls, except with permission earned through friendship.

On the other hand, I’m not a fan of euphemisms. FGM? DPs? I recently had an argument with a friend about the word “poor”, versus his “under-resourced”, “dis-enfranchised”, or “marginalised”. I pointed out that these words actually mean something other than “poor”. The poor may have resources, but no opportunities; were usually not franchised to begin with; and haven’t been marginalised, because they were never at the centre. “Poor” is a good, short, Anglo-Saxon word — the kind that my poetry instructor taught me to favour — and if it’s good enough for the peoples of India, Vietnam and China to describe the condition of many of their own people, it’s good enough for me.

This brings me to the word “corruption”. Though a technical term, it has somehow drifted into the realm of euphemism. It drifts by in conversation without causing a fluster. I feel no shock when I hear it, nor any sense of dismay. I have been dulled by it.

It is not short, sharp, and Anglo-Saxon, but a Latinate word which depends for its meaning on an abstract metaphor of the government as a body. In the classical sense of rhetoric — the use of words to influence people — it is bad rhetoric.

According to the International Financial Institutions Anti-Corruption Task Force (2006), there are four types of corrupt and fraudulent practice:

A corrupt practice is the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting, directly or indirectly, of anything of value to influence improperly the actions of another party.

In other words: cheating.

A fraudulent practice is any act or omission, including a misrepresentation, that knowingly or recklessly misleads, or attempts to mislead, a party to obtain a financial or other benefit or to avoid an obligation.

In other words: lying.

A coercive practice is impairing or harming, or threatening to impair or harm, directly or indirectly, any party or the property of the party to influence improperly the actions of a party.

In other words: bullying

A collusive practice is an arrangement between two or more parties designed to achieve an improper purpose, including influencing improperly the actions of another party.

In other words: gangsterism.

So perhaps we should just forget about “corruption”. Let’s be more poetic. Instead of:

“Government X is corrupt” (yawn)

we might say:

“Government X is full of liars, cheats, gangsters and bullies.”

That would wake me up in the middle of the seminar. And it is, after all, a more accurate description of what’s going on.

And instead of calling the umbrella category “corruption”, what about calling it this:


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