Mind your language

Why do ministers – and bakers – love a rollout?

18 September 2021

9:00 AM

18 September 2021

9:00 AM

I was rolling out some pastry that had been cooling its pudgy heels in the fridge when voices on the wireless began discussing whether Priti Patel would roll out ‘controversial new tactics to turn migrants back mid-Channel’. I felt that our rolling roles belonged to different realms.

For pastry, I have a rolling pin. How does one go about rolling out tactics? I had thought that such things might be rolled out as though they were barrels. That depressing song from the beginning of the war (as we still call it) urges us to ‘roll out the barrel. We’ll have a barrel of fun.’

If not a barrel, then perhaps a carpet is the figurative thing. We have been rolling out red carpets for 200 years, though not necessarily in those exact terms. In George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, at Sir Hugo Mallinger’s New Year’s ball, ‘red carpet was laid down for the occasion: hot-house plants and evergreens were arranged in bowers’.

But government policies aren’t laid down, they are tentatively rolled out, perhaps as pilot schemes, and then they’re rolled back in again if there’s too much trouble.

In the American folk narrative, wagon trains and cowboys break camp and roll out, with wheels or without. From 1959, in the 217 episodes of Rawhide, Frankie Laine gave an unmistakable flavour of what was ahead: ‘Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, / Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, / Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, / Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ / Rawhide!/ Keep them dogies movin’, rawhide!/ Don’t try to understand ’em,/ Just rope ’em, throw, and brand ’em.’ The same might be attempted with the electorate if the rollouts keep coming.

Yet it seems, rather disappointingly, that the roll-out metaphor is taken from aircraft manufacture. Since the 1940s aeroplanes have been rolled out from assembly hangars. On 11 December 1967 it was the ceremonial turn of Concorde — with its extra ‘e’ — at Toulouse. Like a successful policy, the plane did fly after its rollout, if only for 27 years.

I haven’t flown since the beginning of 2020. Never mind rollouts, the words of Pitt the Younger kept coming to mind: ‘Roll up that map of Europe it will not be wanted these ten years.

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