Why has David Cameron made his conference slogan ‘Britain can deliver’? That word ‘deliver’ is revolting. Cameron clearly likes it: ‘Britain delivered’, he said after the Olympics. But if only Dave and his handlers read the Spectator’s Dot Wordsworth more closely, they’d know better. In 2003, Dot wrote:
‘Politicians and managers who use the word deliver should think again . Until recently, the most frequent use of the word deliver was in the phrase ‘deliver us from evil.’ The sense ‘liberate, set free’ had been conveyed by the Latin liberare . But in late Latin this meaning had been taken over by the emphatic deliberare, which in classical Latin meant ‘to weigh well.
‘So I suppose there would have been a late Latin Dot Wordsworth complaining of the misuse of liberare .. As for the annoying modern sense of deliver, it comes from America, as many annoyances are sometimes unjustly suspected of doing. Fred Astaire in Steps in Time (1959) wrote: ‘I have a horror of not delivering — making good, so to speak, and I can’t stand the thought of letting everybody down.’ Perhaps this virtue is now so widely claimed because it is no longer widespread.’
But it’s not just the ugly use of ‘deliver’ that annoys me about the title of Cameron’s speech. Why the ‘can’? Doesn’t it sound a bit wet, as if he’s suggesting that Britain actually might not deliver? Why not will?
The Tories must think that the way to win is to appeal to sub-literate middle-managers everywhere. And – who knows? – maybe they are right. Why not go the whole hog, then, and call Dave’s speech ‘Britain Can Deliver Solutions Going Forward’?