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“That’s an important one,” or why politicians like to use the substantive adjective


Goedele Liekens.© Kris Van Exel

In the run-up to the elections, politicians speak extensively on radio and TV. It is noticeable that they like to say phrases such as “That is a difficult one” or “This is a striking one”. Do they put more weight in their statements with a substantive adjective?

“I think that is an important one,” Goedele Liekens said on Radio 1 last Thursday. She spoke as a politician. But it remains a strange sentence. It sounds unfinished and unclear, because what was so important? Such phrases are the latest fashion in politics. Recently, buzzwords such as tilting and rolling out have started to proliferate, recently supplemented with scaling up and (in the figurative sense) handle – the latter word is also often given the incorrect plural handles.

And now also those strange phrases. They refer to facts or situations as “a difficult one”, “a striking one”, “a complicated one”, “a strange one” or therefore “an important one”. What takes place there is the substantiation of the adjective: it scale up from adjectives to nouns, where the original noun disappears. A sentence like “This is a difficult question” narrows down to: “This is a difficult one.” In Goedele Liekens’ (coincidental) example, it concerned a change in the law that she said was “an important one”.

This linguistic novelty arises when a speaker does not immediately have the right term ready, so he replaces it with a characteristic, by dressing up an adjective as a noun. This surrogate obscures the fact that the original noun is still missing. This causes confusion in such a sentence, because the noun is audibly ersatz, substitution, with linguistic phantom pain that aches where something is absent.

Liekens could also have simply said: “This is important.” But without a noun in it, the sentence could have sounded flat and weaker. A noun, on the other hand, parades confidently through the sentence. When politicians use the trick of the substantive adjective, it is either because of language poverty, or because there is so much noise and idle chatter buzzing around in their universe that they need something impressive to sound credible; a sentence that shakes under the drone of an article, through which a brisk noun marches through.

#important #politicians #substantive #adjective
– 2024-04-25 14:36:25

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