Wednesday, 28 December 2016

"Yes, Minister" speak - a sign of the times

Humphrey, Jim and Bernard from Yes Minister, image from
the BBC.

My husband has introduced me to a lot of classic British comedy. We're currently on Yes, Prime Minister and there were a handful of episodes I loved from its predecessor, Yes Minister. Old shows, like this one from 30 + years ago speak so much of those times, an England I never knew personally. The episodes are just so hilarious and it's quite eerie how similar the situations are to our times. I love it when Hacker starts learning how to play the game, and I think what’s lovable about him is he’s lashing back in a way that doesn’t come across as calculating. Because, poor him, he’s always underestimated as he is The Minister (or because he went to LSE instead of Cambridge).

The following quotes are lifted from Yes, Minister via

From The Writing on the Wall, Series 1, Episode 5
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last 500 years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule, you see. Why should we change now, when it's worked so well?
James Hacker: That's all ancient history, surely.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Yes, and current policy. We had to break the whole thing up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn't work. Now that we're inside we can make a complete pig's breakfast of the whole thing: set the Germans against the French, the French against the Italians, the Italians against the Dutch. The Foreign Office is terribly pleased; it's just like old times.
James Hacker: Surely we're all committed to the European ideal.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Really, Minister.
James Hacker: If not, why are we pushing for an increase in the membership?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, for the same reason. It's just like the United Nations, in fact. The more members it has, the more arguments it can stir up. The more futile and impotent it becomes.
James Hacker: What appalling cynicism.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Yes. We call it diplomacy, Minister.

From The Skeleton in the Cupboard, Series 3 Episode 3
The Sir Humphrey Appleby: The identity of the official whose alleged responsibility for this hypothetical oversight has been the subject of recent discussion is not shrouded in quite such impenetrable obscurity as certain previous disclosures may have led you to assume, but, not to put too fine a point on it, the individual in question is, it may surprise you to learn, one whom your present interlocutor is in the habit of defining by means of the perpendicular pronoun.
James Hacker: I beg your pardon?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: It was... I.

From The Bed of Nails, Series 3 Episode 5
Bernard Woolley: If you had looked a Trojan horse in the mouth, Minister, you'd have found Greeks inside. Well the point is, it was the Greeks who gave the Trojan horse to the Trojans, so technically, it wasn't a Trojan horse at all, it was a Greek horse. Hence the tag "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes", which you'll recall, is usually and somewhat inaccurately translated as "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts". Or doubtless you would have recalled had you not attended the LSE.
James Hacker: Greek tags are all very well, but can we stick to the point?
Bernard Woolley: Sorry, Greek tags?
James Hacker: "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts". I suppose the EEC equivalent would be, "Beware Greeks bearing an olive oil surplus"!
Bernard Woolley: No, the point is, Minister, just as the Trojan horse was Greek, what you call a Greek tag is, in fact, Latin. It's obvious, really: The Greeks would never suggest bewaring of themselves, if one can use such a participle, and it's clearly Latin not because "Timeo" ends in "o", as the Greek first person also ends in "o". No, there is a Greek word "Timao" meaning "I honour", but the "os" ending is a nominative singular termination of a second declension in Greek and an accusative plural in Latin, though actually Danaos is not only the Greek for Greek, it's also the Latin for Greek.

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