Joe Biden´s inauguration speech

The following sentence of Joe Biden’s inauguration speech immediately caught my attention:

But the American story depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us, on we the people who seek a more perfect union.

Alarm bells started to ring in this teacher´s head because normally you wouldn´t say “depends on we” but: “depends on us”. Then I realized it was done on purpose to evoke the beginning of the Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union”

 

This preamble or introduction of the U.S. Constitution summarizes the who, why and what:

– who is adopting this Constitution: “We the People of the United States”,

– why it is being adopted: “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,”

– what is being adopted: “do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

All throughout Joe Biden´s speech* this preamble pops into memory. Let´s have a look at the different parts (words in white are parts of the preamble, Biden´s words are in italics):

form a more perfect Union: Unity is the central theme of Biden´s speech. Here are just two of the countless examples where unity is called for

And unity is the path forward. And we must meet this moment as the United States of America. If we do that, I guarantee you we will not fail. We have never, ever, ever, ever failed in America when we’ve acted together.

uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the foes we face (nice alliteration)

Another remarkable phrase uses the opposite of union: Disagreement must not lead to disunion

establish Justice: The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer.

insure domestic Tranquility: And now a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.

And here we stand just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, to drive us from this sacred ground. It did not happen. It will never happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Not ever.

provide for the common defence: I will defend the Constitution. I’ll defend our democracy. I’ll defend America

promote the general Welfare: We can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome the deadly virus. We can reward, reward work, and rebuild the middle class and make health care secure for all. We can deliver racial justice and we can make America once again the leading force for good in the world.

secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity: That America secured liberty at home and stood once again as a beacon to the world. That is what we owe our forebears, one another and generations to follow.

My dear reader, this comparison is not exhaustive in order not to bore you 😉 but it shows that the inauguration speech nicely covers all the points of the Constitution´s preamble.

*) You can find the complete text in this link  https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/20/us/politics/biden-inauguration-speech-transcript.html

British humour

British humour is considered different from other countries’ humour and it is true, in many situations a British joke doesn’t translate well into for example Spanish. But what exactly makes it different? At the base of British humour are sarcasm and irony. Brits love irony because they are much too polite to be direct. When for example a bus arrives late, no one will tell the driver to his face that he is terribly late. It is much more likely to hear a Brit tell the driver something like: “I love it when the buses drive on time!”. He or she still means how terribly late the bus is, but by saying it ironically they can criticize without being offensive. And it works, all Brits will understand the irony, including the driver.

Brits like sarcasm and irony so much that it is almost always present in their conversations. And so are understatements and self-deprecation. All of these together can make talking to a Brit really funny. Even more so because most of them know how to keep a straight face while joking. Unfortunately it can make understanding a Brit for a foreigner really difficult too, because when you’re focusing on the main thread of the conversation, all these encrypted remarks will confuse you endlessly especially when the facial expression doesn’t tell you if these remarks are serious or not. So next time you hear a Brit saying something that really doesn’t make sense to you, he is probably joking.

Let me give you an example of an unexpected answer a Brit can give you to the seemingly normal question «how are you?»: «Fat, old and ugly»! Few Brits will resist a witty answer to a stupid question: you see a Brit fishing and you ask him if he just caught that fish that you see in his basket. He may say: “No, it’s a plastic model that I carry around for fun…”

Brits use a lot of understatements: «He is not too thin» while talking about an obese person, or «He knows a little about running a company» while talking about a successful CEO. Did you ever notice that there are in fact a lot of understatements in British English? If you pay attention you will hear “actually”, “a bit”, “quite” and “rather” all the time!

Brits love self-deprecation. They like it so much they tend to admire people who use it a lot more than people who boast about themselves. What is self-deprecation? According to the Cambridge dictionary: “Trying to make yourself, your abilities, or your achievements seem less important.” Here’s a funny example: you’re looking for a good hairdresser, so you ask a stranger on the street for one and he or she says: “Would I look like this if I knew one?”

One last type of British humour that I want to mention is teasing. Brits tease a lot, but it is never meant to hurt someone, it is more a signal of acceptance and admiration. A Brit would never tease you if he didn’t like you. So don’t worry if you do something clumsy at work and your boss shouts out in exasperation: “Oh you can’t get decent staff these days!”

I hope you will be able to understand British humour after reading this. I’m afraid there’s no course in seeing the fun in British humour, but I think you will see it if you’re exposed to it long enough! And if not, you will most certainly improve your listening skills in the process.

Joris