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Too sexy

January 30th, 2004

The Economist runs a piece endorsing the Hutton inquiry’s rejection of BBC claims that the Blair government’s dossier on Iraqi weapons was “sexed up”, but runs it under the headline George Bush and Tony Blair exaggerated, but they did not lie What, precisely, is the difference between “exaggerated” and “sexed up”
[Posted with ecto]

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  1. Don
    January 30th, 2004 at 09:24 | #1

    Is it something like the difference between a push-up bra and silicon implants?

  2. William
    January 30th, 2004 at 10:18 | #2

    Sexed-up is vulgar. Its use is symptomatic of a dumbing-down of language used in public discourse.

  3. Homer Paxton
    January 30th, 2004 at 11:55 | #3

    each day we humans do not lie we exaggerate, embellish etc but we never lie.

    We have very low standards and we find it hard to apologise.

  4. January 30th, 2004 at 13:29 | #4

    Boy, beats me. When I first started the reading the hub-bub about the phrase I tried to decode it from my own linguistic heritage and decided it meant the same thing as “tarted up”, a phrase we used to use to mean someone who was wearing too much makeup and provocative clothes. From my point of view that describes Blair’s dossier fairly accurately . . .

  5. January 30th, 2004 at 16:11 | #5

    There is another “cs” in the ‘sphere?

  6. James Farrell
    January 30th, 2004 at 16:52 | #6

    I thoroughly agree with William. Embellish and exaggerate (words supplied by Homer) would have been perfectly adequate. Probably Gilligan brought sex into it on the basis that sex gets attention, and also because like most journalists he has a poor vocabulary.

    As for ‘tart up’, I think it’s a nice phrase, and use it occasionally. But it’s usually used with reference to the form of a thing rather than its content, so I don’t agree with (the first) cs that it could have been used in place of sex up.

  7. Don
    January 30th, 2004 at 17:26 | #7

    I’m confused by William’s comment. What’s the connection between vulgarity and ‘dumbing down’?

    I’d say that the Satyricon by Petronius is vulgar as are some of Machiavelli’s letters. They are vulgar in the language they use and in their subject matter. But in neither case is the vulgarity an indication of ‘dumbness’.

    I think ‘sexed up’ is perfect way of describing a report which has been worked over to produce an emotional response (fear) and a desire for urgent action (invasion). It’s an apt metaphor and far more evocative than a bland word like ‘exaggerate’.

    George Orwell argued that the key to good writing was imagery. “If you want a picture of the future” he wrote “imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” I suppose he could have used a word like ‘oppression’ instead.

  8. James Farrell
    January 31st, 2004 at 05:50 | #8

    Orwell also exhorted writers to aim for freshness and precision.

  9. January 31st, 2004 at 06:45 | #9

    James Farrell: Just curious . . . I agree with you that “tarted up” means embellishing the form, not content, but remain uncertain how “sexed up” differs from this in your view. Can you explain further. I’m from the States and am still having trouble with the idiom. Thanks.

  10. January 31st, 2004 at 14:50 | #10

    “Tarted up” has probably become more vulgar since the days when men could talk about a “tart” as being enticing with a frisson of the forbidden. These days it points to a sad and trashy use of fakery which speaks of the artifice and the creator. “Sexed up” is about enticement, and implies energy, perhaps overwhelming energy, a surrender to some fundamental need which is about liberation and ecstacy.

    It’s a very good phrase. It speaks to something horrible, about selling a war by mass fascination, of a pornographic surrender to a fascist assault on reason.

    (and cs, I hope you are reading cs – he is terrific too)

  11. derrida derider
    January 31st, 2004 at 16:51 | #11

    The Economist has sadly declined in recent years – it has increasingly let its political preferences shape its reporting.

    This particular par so infuriated me by its special pleading that I was moved to fire off an angry letter to the editor. If work wasn’t paying for it, I’d cancel my subscription.

  12. eric bloodaxe
    February 1st, 2004 at 01:15 | #12

    Tart was another name for a whore.

  13. William
    February 2nd, 2004 at 09:45 | #13

    “What’s the connection between vulgarity and ‘dumbing down’?”

    The debasement of language through the use of bad metaphors (e.g. politics or sport being dramatised through likening them to war) is a consequence of shallowness of thought and laziness. Casting complex political debates as simplistic goodie/baddie arguments is bad enough, vulgarity is worse because it usually provokes and emotional response, a distraction from a thoughtful and serious clarity of mind required to understand the issues.

    It’s especially disappointing coming from journalists who, if not eloquent, should at least try to be approach issues with above-average intelligence.

  14. James Farrell
    February 2nd, 2004 at 12:36 | #14

    cs II:

    In my experience ‘tart up’ is mostly used for good-humoured teasing, when someone, usually a woman, dresses up and appears unexpectedly alluring. But I have also heard people talk about tarting up rooms or documents, in which context it just means adding some gloss to the presentation. I think Dave is right that for most readers ‘tart’ nowadays sounds more pathetic than exciting, so it wouldn’t have been picked to characterise the WMD report.

    ‘Sex up’, by contrast, is not an established phrase, so doesn’t lend itself to a definition. In the BBC report it means sensationalise, which in turn means to oversimplify and make shocking. But for readers who might find all these terms a bit bland it needs to be connected to sex, despite the lack of relevance. I think it works for some people because, in the context of British politics, it also evokes scandal and cover-up. But this is a separate aspect of the issue, and muddling the different aspects is unhelpful.

  15. William
    February 3rd, 2004 at 08:11 | #15

    I’ve thought of a better one: spiced-up.

    ‘The Blair government has been accused by a Foreign Office civil servant of spicing-up intelligence assessments about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. He was subsequently arrested, tried and sentenced to 15 years in jail for breach of the Official Secrets Act.’

  16. almetaany
    June 2nd, 2004 at 07:24 | #16

    i’need sex

  17. almetaany
    June 2nd, 2004 at 07:24 | #17

    i’need sex

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