The latest New Yorker has an article by Jane Kramer, “All He Surveys: Silvio Berlusconi’s monopoly on Italy” (unfortunately not online), that contains this striking quote from anthropologist Mariella Pandolfi:

Pandolfi says that, for her, the great irony of Italian politics is that all the likely candidates of the center-left… speak an Italian that’s elegant but completely incomprehensible and elitist. “It’s the language of the priests, the courts, the language of authority,… whereas the language that unites Italy today is Berlusconi’s television language. His grammar is dreadful. He gets the subjunctive wrong. Give him three seconds on television and he makes four mistakes. But you discover that everybody loves his mistakes. That’s his power.”


  1. This phenomenon is of course old news (several decades I believe, it has been evident since before I was around to witness) in the US.

  2. Talk about neurolinguistic programming! “Nucular” + “subliminable” will get you elected.
    By the way, Putin, unlike his friend Silvio (cf. Puskin’s Vystrel), normally speaks boring, colorless, nearly correct Russian, which makes his occasional forays into the spoken idiom (“we’ll wipe them out in the outhouse” or “they’ll circumsize you so nothing ever grows again”) all the more memorable.

  3. The interestingpoint about the article is not so much in the details. Instead, it shows what would happen if you united George W Bush and Rupert Murdoch in the same person. The, you’d get Italy where a pretty stupid person who can’t even speak properly, who is deluded to a ridiculous extent (you really have to read the article to get amazing examples!), who controls all the media, and who can either buy or force himself out of any responsibility is in power.

  4. I’d like to kiss Pandolfi’s mouth, is how my
    (sicilian) mother would put it. In Italy, anyone who remotely wishes to be taken seriously models his or her Italian to that of the courts and the priests, and the result is a nation of people who ALL speak this Latinate, flowered, complicated, SERIOUS lingo. There is nothing wrong with serious lingo but Italian politics have reached the point where they should counter Berlusconi’s agit-prop with clearness in language & purpose; AND THEY CAN’T!! They cannot counter the man on either of this (interrelated) area’s, and maybe it won’t kill them, literally, but it will make Italy, culturally, a much more arid country than it is now.
    (Excuse the un-english moments. I’m not an english speaker, plus i get carried away by the subject.)

  5. Mr Churchill was very eloquent, enough to win the Nobel for Literature. Herr Hitler not as much, but not at all bad by today’s standards (but Hitler was also talented painter and architect, and a convival and charming host). Both Tony Blair and Fidel Castro are smooth of tongue, though the latter often parlays his gift into tiresome longwindedness.
    “Eloquence” and “good leadership” are rarely connected in any meaningful way (to wit: if a leader we dislike is eloquent, we label him “demagogue”), and I have to keep reminding myself of just this when I see George W. Bush’s raping the English language on the TV. In other words, this man is stupid, but that’s not necessarily why he speaks badly.
    A good candidate for “most eloquent man in America”, John Updike, also has a notable speech defect. Tongue and mind do not always agree, and slurred speech can mask brilliant thoughts.
    More surprisingly, pen and mind sometimes part ways, too. W.B. Yeats, who knew better how to say most things than most of us ever could, spelled atrociously in his later years (I’ve been reading his letters from that time).

  6. sara: No excuses needed; you’re eloqent and convincing!

  7. There the entire article online!
    Kave a look here

  8. Hey, thanks, Maurizio! I’ve added the article link to the post.

  9. I always admire John Updike’s speaches despite his speach defect. The speach defect should never be an insurmountable obstacle.

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