Howard Davies, man of the people

By Felix Salmon
January 27, 2010
Howard Davies has taken an early lead in the Great Davos Narcissism Stakes, with this classic parenthetical:

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Howard Davies has taken an early lead in the Great Davos Narcissism Stakes, with this classic parenthetical:

As you climb the mountain to Davos (the train via Landquart is my demotic route of choice – eschewing the expensive corporate Audis) you tend to think you know what the Forum’s financial talking points will be.

This ranks up there with the Hollywood stars who congratulate themselves on helping to save the planet by flying commercial: taking the efficient and comfortable Swiss railway to Davos is not much of a hardship. What’s more, if you think that Davies is going to admit that he was thinking wrong about what the Forum’s financial talking points would be, think again.

It’s also the language which gives Davies away here: not just the use of the second person, but also the word “demotic”, which doesn’t mean what Davies thinks it means. If Davies had tried asking directions to Landquart in schoolboy German, and got an earful of incomprehensible Alpine Schweizerdeutsch in response, that would have been demotic. But I suspect he’s not enough of a man of the people to actually attempt talking to them: being in the same train as them is probably as far as he can bring himself to go.


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The snark factor seems to have gone through the roof since arriving in Switzerland. It seems quite a change from the normal tone.

Posted by SBa | Report as abusive

Actually, his usage of ‘demotic’, according to the OED, is perfectly fine (it does not ALWAYS refer to speech):

2. In general sense: Of, pertaining or proper to, the common people; popular, vulgar. Also as n.
1831 SYD. SMITH Wks. (1859) II. 220/1 Demotic habits will be more common in a country where the rich are forced to court the poor for political power. 1872 O. W. HOLMES Poet Breakf.-t. viii. (1885) 189 The one..does what in demotic phrase is called the ‘sarsing’. 1881 Times 26 Apr. 4/1 There is nothing in the position that the demotic mind can apprehend. 1922 T. S. ELIOT Waste Land 212 Mr Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant..Asked me in demotic French To luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel. 1958 Times Lit. Suppl. 17 Jan. 30/3 Mr Amis’s attitudes as a writer are not so demotic as his choice of terms seems to pretend. There is a suggestion of linguistic slumming, tweedy slanginess. 1961 Listener 30 Mar. 573/3 In fact advertising has, of necessity, to use simple, forceful, easily understandable words{em}‘demotic’ language, as Mr Whitehead might call it. 1967 R. MABEY Class 110 Not only did ITV develop the popular touch{em}it nurtured those diverse speech tones and accents which belonged naturally to the more demotic channel. 1968 A. COWAN Fortunately in England 162 An occasional class of boys would do their best to add a gaiety of their own by singing unusual and demotic versions of such songs as Men of Harlech. 1969 R. HEPPENSTALL Portrait of Artist as Professional Man 101 To a north countryman of demotic antecedents like myself, Louis’s background, manner and social attitudes were characteristically southern English upper-middle class. 1970 C. P. SNOW Last Things 7 At that stage, he had a knack of speaking what he thought of as American demotic.

Posted by bdubs513 | Report as abusive

Yeah, I’ve noticed that myself. I guess I just feel that so many of the journalists here have been completely captured that I’m naturally overcompensating in the opposite direction. Someone’s got to do it.

Davies sounds like a real schmuck, yes.

That said, not only was his use of ‘demotic’ entirely proper, but you also imply that you’re not chatting up the locals very much yourself. When you speak schoolboy German to a Swiss native, you do not get Schwyzerdütsch in return. You may get high German, Italian-accented German, or the amusingly hostile fiction that said native only speaks French.

Moreover, Schwyzerdütsch is hardly incomprehensible. It’s a strong accent that includes some nonstandard vocabulary at which you can guess from context. It takes a little doing to parse without effort, but spend a few weeks hearing nothing else and you’ll be fine. The real trick isn’t understanding it, it’s speaking it.

Posted by wcw | Report as abusive

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