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.
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