Interim – the power of a word

Rafael Benitez is unhappy with his title. In a speech after Chelsea had beaten13455754401401239785Manager Between Chair and Desk.svg.med Middlesbrough 2-0 in the fifth round of the FA Cup, Benitez objected to being called “interim manager”. So why is “interim manager” linguistically and semantically so different from “manager”?

In structure, both are noun phrases, but the pre-modifying adjective “interim” alters our response to the head noun.  This is the power of pre-modification – it affects the way we interpret the noun that follows.

The meaning of the adjective appears to undermine the authoritative connotations of “manager” in this context.  For Benitez, it makes his role seem less important because it suggests that he is only transitional, temporary – a stand-in until someone else (someone better or more suitable?) can be appointed.

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8 Comments

Filed under Adjectives, Connotations, Phrases, Uncategorized

8 responses to “Interim – the power of a word

  1. subject: Manager vs Interim Manager. You write “In terms of the meaning, the adjective appears to undermine the authoritative connotations of “manager”. Well, not for me. I never undermine an “Interim” but take him for what he is: a temporary replacement Manager. And always think he could eventually be appointed a successor to the previous Manager.

    As the saying goes “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”. Of a glass half filled with wine you can say “it is half full”, but you could equally say “it is half empty”, depending on whether you are in a positive or negative frame of mind.

  2. Yes, I recognise the fluidity of the connotations here – hence the tentative “appears”. As all linguists know, context is everything and for Benitez the glass does seem to be ‘half empty’. In what the newspapers described as his “rant”, he certainly expressed a feeling that he was being side-lined, that his authority was being undermined. The tag has been seen by commentators as sending out the wrong message to the players and fans.

    • OK, Benitez feels undermined by the word “interim”, but other managers will react differently. This is not the situation where words are used “on purpose” to mislead people. Just to give one example, “War Envoy” Tony Blair was free and undisturbed to organise about 10 wars in the Middle East (adding millions of £s to his already huge fortune, from invading Iraq and Afghanistan), because the powers call him “Peace Envoy”. He organised the Arms Trade Spring (negative, so much blood and death) but Media and politicians coined the word “Arab” to Spring and it instantly became positive.

  3. Political euphemism – language used consciously to alter our perception – is succinctly described by George Orwell in his 1946 essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’:

    “Political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible … designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

    One of Orwell’s examples is similar to the examples you cite: villages are bombed, inhabitants driven from their homes, cattle gunned down, huts set on fire – and we call it “pacification”.

    We now ‘engage’ with the enemy rather than fight; we make torture acceptable with neutral phrases like ‘rendition’ and ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. Such ‘doublespeak’ is common and it is certainly important that we are aware of the power of language to affect the way we think about events.

    It’s sad to think so little has changed since Orwell was writing …

    • You are preaching to the converted!!! I’ve been writing about the use of language to defend the indefensible, for decades. Not only hundreds of articles, but a whole book “The Game of War and a Path to Peace”, with plenty of examples of the Orwellian type.

  4. Not preaching! Just hoping that others may learn from your interesting posts and begin to think about language …

  5. Well ….. !!!!! I hope you’re luckier than me !!!!!

  6. Pingback: That’s a horrible phrase! | Sara Thorne English Language

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