Too Many Adjectives, Not Enough Verbs

Last night, August 8th 2011, the nation watched on 24-hour news channels as its capital burned. Rioters in London razed shops and homes to the ground in communities that have really done little - if anything - to deserve such punishment.

A day later, the broadcasters are running out of ways to describe the events. Some have been criticised by the victims for calling it a "spectacle" as though the whole thing was just TV.

The victims, in turn, are rightly in shock - and in no state to put into words what has happened to them over the past 24 hours.

Police and fire service spokespeople are struggling to explain the action - or apparent inaction - taken, but thankfully public opinion seems to be on their side and no false blame is being placed in their direction.

And, now the politicians are all back from their holidays, we can expect a whole new layer of rhetoric to be laid over the whole event - one which will, no doubt, be much less blameless than the comments seen elsewhere.


David Cameron's speech following this morning's COBRA meeting in Downing Street was littered with verbs - to describe the actions of the rioters. Smashing, burning, looting. 'Doing words' with built-in description, emotive terms to try and tap into the nation's collective psyche about what happened last night.

But when it comes to what is actually being done to tackle the situation, the passive voice rears its unwanted head. "There will be 16,000 [officers on the streets] tonight," says Cameron - but not "We are putting 16,000 on the streets."

"All leave within the Metropolitan Police has been cancelled," but not "We have cancelled all Metropolitan Police leave."

Why does this matter? Isn't it just semantics? Well maybe, but while the politicians blame each other without taking responsibility for any actions, good or bad, the public have pulled together using the very tool that was initially blamed for the rioting - Twitter.

Clean-up crews have been formed from anyone with a broom and a backbone, and are sweeping away the debris from last night's destruction even as I type this. Local shops are giving away tea and cakes. It's the closest thing to wartime spirit that has probably been seen during the current generation.


via @Lawcol888

This picture - and not those broadcast overnight - shows the true potential and harnessed power of social networking.

While the cowardly rioters delete their Twitter accounts as the net closes around them - and the verb-laden #identifyrioters hashtag gains traction - community-loving Twitter users are banding together for positive action.

This is the power of social networking - not the acts seen last night. This is the power of words and images combined. This is why we need more verbs - more 'doing' words - and less description. Politicians, if you're reading this, set your adjectives aside and pick up a broom - it's time to sweep our nation clean.

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