Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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Saturday, October 11, 2008
 
"Specific learning differences." An excellent letter to the Times:
Sir, Sue Whiting, a “retired special educational needs co-ordinator”, asserts in her letter (Oct 10) that “there are likely to be 20 per cent of children in any classroom with specific learning differences”. My initial reaction on reading this was that, surely, all the children would have learning differences: that is the human condition. However, on closer analysis I deduced that what was stated was not what was actually meant. Surely Ms Whiting’s unadorned meaning was that 20 per cent of the children would, for one reason or another, have learning difficulties.

Such euphemistic language is an increasing phenomenon in bureaucracies. Sometimes its usage seems intended merely to avoid giving offence; sometimes, there is the suspicion of deliberate confusion. In local government housing circles “affordable housing” is referred to when social sector rented accommodation is intended. Thus, when setting housing policy requiring 50 per cent of new development to be affordable, as commonly understood, is far less controversial than requiring 50 per cent of housing to be social rented.

Orwellian usage of this kind debases the language as a tool for expression. It leads, at best, to lack of clarity and, at worst, it is downright misleading and stifles legitimate debate. It needs to be rooted out.

Julian Critchlow

Sue Whiting's original letter is the second one here. It is quite clear that by "differences" she means "difficulties" or "disabilities". This usage, along with "differently-abled", is quite common now. It always makes me think, well you won't be wanting any money then.