I am not much of a Freudian, but I think that good old Sigmund was on to something when he suggested that small slips of the tongue could sometimes reveal the way people think. For example, when British police spokesmen talk to the press about murders, they often use words like “senseless” or “pointless” to describe them. This suggests that they think some murders are sensible or reasonable; and when they proceed to pay tribute to the victim’s endearing qualities, they appear to imply that less endearing people may be killed without the law’s going to equivalent lengths to find the killers.

Here is some more linguistic evidence that we in Britain now accept that violence is a normal part of daily life: a woman named Antonette Richardson and her boyfriend, Tony Virasami, have been charged with killing one Kevin Tripp in a London supermarket. Richardson had an argument with a man who accused her of cutting in front of him in line. She telephoned Virasami, who soon arrived on the scene, and pointed to her accuser. “Don’t mess with my wife,” Virasami said to Tripp, and struck him a heavy blow to his head. He fell, hitting his head on the ground, and later died.

Richardson then told her boyfriend that he had struck the wrong person. The manager of the store echoed the sentiment, coming over to Virasami, putting his hand on his shoulder, and saying, “I think you have done enough damage. I think you have hit the wrong person.” What this form of words suggests, of course, is that there was a right person for Virasami to have hit. Had he struck the right man, the manager (and presumably everyone else) would have had little to complain about. The manager expects violence in his store, including fatal quarrels over who comes before whom at the checkout.

Another revealing detail is Virasami’s use of the word “wife,” which these days in England carries no connotation of religious or civil vows, ceremony, or contract. Less than half of the eligible population is now marrying, and soon more than half of children will be born out of what was once called wedlock.


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