This [insert rant-worthy issue of choice] is an utter disgrace. It cannot continue.
How many times have you read an opinion like that, whether on front pages or editorial columns?
And what is wrong with it?
Well, the obvious answer to the second sentence—It cannot continue—is a pantomime-style one.
Oh yes it can!
What’s more, it usually does. Even in the worst cases, like war crimes and invasions.
The meaning of “can”
And saying a disgrace “cannot continue” implies that it is impossible for it to continue, that it will be somehow stopped.
(Possibly by magic?)
But that is not what the media thundering is trying to say, is it?
The thundering is saying that the disgrace must (has to) be stopped, or should (ought to) be stopped, by persons unspecified in both cases.
Someone (who?) must take action and ensure that the disgrace ends.
Why do so many media outlets and people in power use such sloppy language?
Why is “it cannot continue” used?
I have my own theory here. I believe the use of formulations like “It cannot continue” allow the media outlets and speakers concerned to duck the key questions of what is to be done and who is to do it. If they wrote—of a war, for example—”It must not continue”, it would be much more likely to provoke the obvious questions: “So who is to stop it? And how?”
One might suggest that formulations like “It cannot continue” are nothing but hot air, mere blustering from an outlet that wants to encourage its readers to join a rant. (Newspaper owners have known for decades that making readers angry sells copies. Fortunes have been made on the daily hate.)
It also works if the outlet wishes to avoid the risk of alienating powerful sections of society/government/media. In other words, the very WHO that might be required To Do Something.
What can be done about misuse of “it cannot continue”?
It should be ditched. But can it be ditched? That depends on ditching the sloppy mindset that created it. There, I fear, I cannot be very hopeful.
No, it should not continue, but I very much fear that it will. Because the people who should ensure it does not continue are too cowardly, or too self-serving, to do what should and must be done to stop it. By them.
So they will continue to pontificate to us with sweeping statements of “It cannot continue“, trying to look statesmanlike while, effectively, ducking the issue altogether.
And they do not even have the guts to say what they really mean.
PS Huge apologies. So busy ranting that I scheduled this post for 2023 instead of 2022.
Everyone can lapse, can they not? Even a Pedantique-Ryter…