Mind your language

The week in words: When politicians use 'hard-working'

12 October 2013

9:00 AM

12 October 2013

9:00 AM

In his New Year message for 1940, Joseph Goebbels complained that the ‘warmongering cliques in London’ hated the German people because they were ‘hard-working [arbeitsam] and intelligent’. I certainly found it odd that the Conservatives in their party conference should use ‘hardworking’ as their catchphrase. But it was odd not because of Dr Goebbels, but because it had been flogged so hard by Gordon Brown during the Blairite era of errors and distortions. If it was so easily forgotten as a Labour slogan, why deploy it again in the Conservative interest?

The Tory conference organisers wrote hardworking as one word. The Oxford English Dictionary points out that hard, before a participial adjective, is ‘always hyphenated’ when the compound is used attributively, as in ‘hard-boiled egg’. When it is used predicatively the word order may change: ‘Will you have it hard-boiled?’ or ‘Are the eggs boiled hard?’ There’s also a difference in meaning between: ‘The family was working hard’ and ‘The family was hard-working.’


Hard is not here an adjective, but an adverb, though it does not end in -ly. Indeed a ‘hardly-working family’ is a different kettle of fish.

Hard can form an unlimited number of compounds. Some Americans aspire to being hard-assed (and in America there is a suspicious interest in asses — you bet ya’). It is admirable to be hard-headed, less admirable to be hard-fisted, worse to be hard-hearted. The metaphoric hard-mouthed, meaning ‘obstinate’, is scarcely usable; you might think it meant ‘having a hard line to the mouth’. These things come and go. Hard-wired is one that has come (since 1969), often used instead of instinctive, as if we understood any more by supposing ourselves computers rather than a species with inbuilt faculties.

Nothing seems to evaporate faster than a slogan in today’s politics. Not long ago Ed Miliband tried to resurrect the Disraelian One Nation rallying cry. Now he’s happier again blaming ‘them’ for things than which ‘Britain can do better’. In 1997, a grinning Tony Blair appeared on advertisements overprinted with ‘Britain deserves better’. Perhaps, after a while, a certain ambiguity undermined its effectiveness.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10


Show comments
  • mrsjosephinehydehartley

    What a bout ” hard-worked” families? More realistic I reckon.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “Joseph Goebbels complained that the ‘warmongering cliques in London’ hated the German people because they were ‘hard-working [arbeitsam] and intelligent’.”
    You have to admit, he had a point. And as the decades roll by Brother Joseph makes even more sense.
    Interesting to note that Joseph Goebbels was the only leading Nazi to be excommunicated by the Vatican. His crime? He married a Protestant. “You see, we do have our standards.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Jackthesmilingblack
      • 17 hours ago

      As far as I`m concerned I posted the above some 30 minutes ago. But then the headaches have been rather more frequent.

      • Toby Esterházy

        A self-important idiot who replies to himself.

    • Toby Esterházy

      I mean, back in the 15th.c. perhaps, but when did “marrying a Protestant” still within the grounds of excommunication anytime within the 20th. century, even for the Catholic Church in Germany? And when was the last time that the Vatican directly excommunicate laymen instead of going it through the local diocesan bishop? What is your source? A single unsourced letter from British Columbia to the Irish Independent? “Rational” Wiki (intended as a joke)?

      You are a Japanese and a Shintoist. Kindly, stick to the religions that you actually know, kiddo!

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        “I`ve never heard it before so it must be wrong.” That mindset is such an impediment to self-improvement. I`m right, you`re wrong, so lap it up, Mr. Ignoramus.

        • Guest

          You are no different from a Japanese Zen Buddhist monk (who knows Hangul and Classical Chinese) trying to debate Buddhist theology with a Sri Lankan monk (who knows Sanskrit and Pali)—the Japanese monk would always lose.

          A Catholic could not get himself excommunicated simply for marrying a Protestant wife in the 20th. century. If this was impossible in either England, Scotland or Ireland in the 20th.c., then the same rules (Catholic Canon law for the Latin Church) meant that it was also impossible in Germany. Where do you get this crazy information of yours from? You are a Japanese, a Shintoist and a Buddhist, and you live in Chiba, just outside of Tokyo. When did you suddenly become the expert on the Catholic Church and Catholic Canon law?

    • Toby Esterházy

      Maria Fitzherbert, King Charles I, King Charles II, King James II and?

Close