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Words can fly and words can bite

By George Theodoridis

Exhibit 1: Justin Milne to Guthrie (via email): “…I just think it’s simple. Get rid of her. My view is we need to save the corporation, not Emma…” Milne says these comments were taken out of context.

Exhibit 2: PM Morrison to journalist Cassidy: “I expect the ABC Board to do better and if they don’t, well, they can expect a bit more attention from me.”

Exhibit 3: Odysseus to Agamemnon, wrathfully: “Son of Atreus! What words have escaped the barrier of your teeth!” – Iliad 4, 350.

That’s Homer for you: “Our teeth are much like the topless towers of Troy the Greeks had to face: a barrier to hold back unruly or recalcitrant words,” he tells us. “Don’t let false words, fake words escape that barrier.” Homer also used the formulaic phrase, Ἔπεα πτερόεντα” (“Winged words”), throughout his two giant epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey.

If he were a modern-day Aussie, he’d put it in these words: “Words are like mozzies, mate: They fly and they can bite you on the bum. Take care what words you let fly out of your mouth!”

And there are two types of words, those uttered and those written. Here’s Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus addressing the Roman Senate: “Verba Volant, Scripta Manent,” he warned the good senators which, in English parlance it means “(Uttered) Words fly, written ones remain.”

All the words uttered in the Australian Parliament are written; so are those in the ABC act. They remain. They are immortal and they are there even after they are erased by some usurper of our Democracy, and they are still there even if nobody takes notice of them.

Emails or hard copy, words said in a pub, a boardroom or from a pulpit, words that mean nothing and words that change worlds, words of every hue and of every tone can fly forever. Unlike chocolate, they have no use-by date.

Laws and important notices in Ancient Greece were chiselled into stone or wooden pillars called “Stelae” and these were placed throughout the city, a practice which gave strength and legitimacy to Aristotle’s view that “all men are political beings.” All men (yes, women were excluded officially from the political process) were an active part of a polis and so they were all responsible for its health -social, moral, economic. They were, in other words, politicians and that’s the real meaning of the word. Solon’s laws were engraved on these Stelae and there they remained and thus they were easy to check and point to when matters became complex or ambivalent. They were there to remain all its citizens that they were politicians.

Words are great. They change their form from abstract, when they’re in one’s head, to sensate when they are written or uttered. They are great to make one happy, great to make one sad, great at praising someone and great at destroying someone. Most importantly, they are great when we try to express even our most subtle emotions:

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.”
Wrote Elizabeth Browning.

Words can be sweet and they can be bitter. The power of the pen does not rest upon its nib or the colour of the ink it uses but upon the words, it writes. And whilst words are certainly not the only means of communication and we well know what the gesture of a finger thrust hard into the air or a thumb bitten aggressively convey, words have the ability to communicate the most complex of issues in the most subtle way.

The Spartans communicated using the shortest possible sentences, a type of speech called laconic speech. For example, you would hear soldiers daring their enemies with “μολὼν λαβέ” (“Come and get it if you dare!”) or a mother telling her son as she hands him his shield on his way to war:ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς” (“Return either carrying it as a victor or upon it, killed on the battlefield.”

Their cousins, the Athenians across the isthmus, on the other hand, loved using lengthy orations even to describe the simplest of things, because nothing in the minds of the philosophical Athenians was ever simple. Consequently, Thucydides’ prediction was true and we now have little of what the Spartans have said and a great deal of what the Athenians did, from Literature to philosophy, to theatre, to law and to History. Almost all of the stuff he have now about Sparta and the Spartans was written by non-Spartans.

Both, written and uttered words should be freely expressed.

On the eve of his invasion to Greece, in 480 BC the Persian emperor, Xerxes once asked his Greek counsellor, Demaratus, an exiled Spartan king, if the Greeks will stay to fight an army as enormous as his.

Demaratus nervously, fearfully asked the great King if he would like to hear the truth or whatever would please his ears and heart. Xerxes answered that he wanted to know the truth. Still, Demaratus was afraid to speak it. To tell him the truth.

Demaratus did tell the Great King the truth about the nature of the Greek soldier but the King refused to believe him, which is another trait of a despot, to ignore the truth. Demaratus followed him against his countrymen and the invasion ended in an abject failure for the King.

Herodotus’ whole work, his Histories is an effort to show that societies whose people are free are better than those whose people labour under autocrats and tyrants. Fear and intimidation will almost always conceal or distort the truth. Freedom of speech was at the very core of being a Greek while its opposite, the fear of speaking it was at the very core of a tyrannical despot, ones like Xerxes and his father Darius. Demaratus had left Greece where he was able to speak his mind freely and ended up in Persia where doing so could cost him his life.

A fair and just society is made up of fair and just citizens, the blood and soul of which are words that are the true reflections of the thoughts of its citizens and their expression is pure and undefiled by any interference by anyone. No society can be fair and just if its citizens can’t do that.

If we are to rightfully boast that we are a Democracy, then we ought to have another forum, another platform from that of the Parliament, a platform where the speech of our people, the true demos, can be uttered freely. That forum should be the media and the media should comprise journalists whose only concern is the pursuit of news and its true dissemination, again, free from any interference. The truth should reign free.

The ABC, we all thought foolishly, was a media platform where these vested interests were kept at bay; that this taxpayer-funded body was protected by legislation and that it worked free of manipulation and of agendas belonging to particular interests and not to its funders, the Australian demos. Recently we found out that this was not the case and that the ABC was in fact, run by a board put there by political interests and that these political interests were ruthlessly directing the trajectory of its work.

We know this because the words used by the chairman of its board, Justin Milne, demanding that one of its best-known journalist should be sacked, rose to the surface of public scrutiny, much like the sewage of a badly maintained plumbing complex.

The ABC, which though, I suggest might not always have given us a “no punches pulled” account of the facts, was and certainly is vital to us if we are to understand ourselves, as well as others and to respect the two most crucial elements of a humane society, truth and justice. This body must not brook any interference from anyone and to pursue, as its charter suggests, truth at any cost.

A society is not served at all well if its journalists are so afraid, to tell the truth, that they become silenced hostages of the powerful – effectively nothing more than palace eunuchs.

As I write, I am watching the President of the USA mocking in the most loathsome way, a woman who dared speak out about a sexual assault she suffered by someone who is after one of the most important jobs in America –it is a job for the rest of his life- in the most important field in the running of the American society, that of the country’s Supreme Court.

President Trump was mocking Dr Christine Blasey Ford who alleged that she was sexually assaulted by the Trump’s nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

And this is while the Senate is trying to assess Kavanaugh’s suitability to a seat in the Supreme Court. His words, Trump’s words, are a belligerent, bellowing cascade of bitterness, of hatred and of poison that has indeed, escaped the barrier of his teeth. They are nothing short of a vulgar, unabashed interference in the process of seeking the truth. (

Interference by powerful, vested interests. An aggressive attack on a person with little power other than that invested in the truth, an attack aimed at shutting down any other person who holds the truth but who is not powerful enough to utter it.

The ABC, like the ancient Greek stage, is the platform where the truth comes to see the light and breathe the clear air. This light and this air must not be subverted in any way. It must not be turned into a “truth maybe” or a “truth but.”


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  1. Diannaart

    I’m the first to admit my Classical Greek education is sparse to nonexistent, perhaps the Libs are correct we need more olde worlde Western History in our schools, although I suspect that the Libs were speaking code for Christian Education.

    However, I am sure the “modern day Aussie” is more likely to advise upon the speaking of utter shite as follows;

    “Words are like mozzies, mate: They fly and they can bite you on the bum. Take care what words you let fly out of your arse!”

    Often I find myself relating to that canny old warrior, Sun Tzu, whose philosophy upon the art of war remains popular today, for example,

    If your opponent is of choleric temper, irritate him.


  2. pierre wilkinson

    almost unbelievable the depths to which they have sunk in the USA..
    and here we are trying to beat them with ineptitude, incompetence, brazen distortion of fact… well call it lying,
    and almost complete capitulation to the ministrations of the murdochracy and IPA agenda…
    and it is all Labor’s fault ! >sigh<

  3. wam

    I find it so frustrating that religious nutters like the rabbott morrison and kavanaugh will act as they believe but are protected from questions on their beliefs??

    Oh am so with you Dianaart. Didn’t gillard shine when she shat on the rabbott but no follow up and little billy no fire there.

    As for the septics they focus on the woman not the man. The women republican on my facebook are so negative
    Today, the ABC focus was trump’s it is a scary time for young men? Not unless they do a trump and grab pussy or do a rabbott and have unprotected sex with any woman he possible could.
    Why not on kavanaugh who has only respect for women who defer to men women who are subservient as their god made them giving no credence to women like cecelia payne, donna strickland who stride far above men like these.

    Sorry but it must be close to the green white and purple

  4. paul walter

    Diaanaart, my guess is that they are less interested in Xtian stuff than edited history, to obscure the suffering of victims, both “ours” and the “enemy”, let alone not to be considered civilians..It’s about great and heroic men, standing against ethnic inferiors.

    They are presented as exceptions to the rule noble/aristocratic and inculcated with the desire to selflessly serve the state as heroes and warriors. Its a co-relative to Anzac and Pioneer mythologies; of Burke and Wills perishing in the blazing sun or heroes mowed down by alien others at Gallipoli in defence of frail womenfolk back home.

    It is about socialisation and individuation away from any softening feminine influence, maybe a bit along the lines of the Spartan nature of private schools, no crybabies, little association with girls and women as part of a sexual division of labour that leaves men and women alienated from each other and young men subject to the embrace, service and rule of the state while women are retired to the domestic world to breed sons for heroes.

    It harks back to what should be a bygone era, but these cultural traits are actually reproducible of the hierarchical system the likes of us have been fighting for years to have broken down. The system nourishes itself on the neuroticism and fantasies of its subjects and victims; inscribes denialism and alienation as the stock traits of humanity at this time in evolving history,

    Think of people like Xtian Porter, Fifield,Tudge or Morrison. Very little self-reflexivity, difference baffles them and gentleness is a weakness. They yearn for power to fill the hole in the soul culture induces and another generation will shortly emerge from preppie private school nests and following state school kids adopting the values for survival, upcoming generations of unfulfilled women and men and then the guilt trip way Xtianity is used, to consolidate dependency through self-blaming, both men and women.

  5. Shaun Newman

    The ABC has diverted from its truth-telling and has become a semi-commercial type organization in the way it presents news and discusses issues in recent years. It has become obvious to we long-term viewers of the ABC that issues covered are not the issues that concern us and the questions asked of the current government politicians are not the questions that we want to be asked.

    The journalists have obviously been told by their management in relation to L’NP politicians to ask easy questions, and this includes Leigh Sales. 4 Corners used to be a really hard-hitting program that regularly upset politicians of all stripes and that reputation has been largely dissipated over the past 5 years with political interference in appointments to the MD’s position and appointments to the ABC board, this political interference needs to stop, and an independent committee incorporating viewers representatives needs to be established to recommend appointments.

    Current programming also leaves a lot to be desired, the ABC has some really good programs mixed with a few really bad programs, for example, I watched ‘In the line of duty’ tonight which as a great show, but earlier in the day ‘Murder she wrote’ seriously? A 1970s stupid yank drama on at 3 pm, it belongs in the dustbin, not bringing down ABC TV.

  6. Diannaart

    Paul Walter

    Religion – the opiate of the masses and the tool of the tyrant.

    I agree, without religion to divide and conquer, someone would’ve had to invent it … no wonder those who believe their destiny to rule requires the extra boost of religious instruction in schools under the guise of “getting back to basics”.

    All that effort expended to bind us all. Imagine if such energy went into working towards an egalitarian world, a sustainable environment, guaranteed housing and liveable income.

  7. helvityni

    “Verba Volant, Scripta Manent,” said Titus, translated into English , uttered words fly, written ones remain…

    I take his advise and keep my written words short, sparse, Spartan…

    I don’t heed to the advise from Sun Tzu if/when I realise someone is ‘choleric’, easily angered, bad-tempered, irascible…I leave it to the politicians shouting under the Westminster system…

    Interesting one George Theodoridis, keep them coming, variety is the spice of life….

  8. ChristopherJ

    Thanks for raising this, but I agree with others, the days of the ABC acting indep of government went out the door when the body was semi-commercialised. Pretty much around the time the top public servants did a deal to create a new Senior Executive Service – and the huge pay disparity now to the old APS (when compared with days long, long gone).

    The soft questions on QA, the 730 questions that just fail to ask why we can’t have nice things in Australia anymore.

    I was somewhat shocked to hear of plans to privatise the public broadcaster, which obviously makes it no longer a public broadcaster. But, TBH, I am beyond, shocked or angry these days

    When you realise how little political power we have in such a divided nation, it’s about all I can do to comment here and there. Latest confluence of world events are very worrying. Thanks again all

  9. paul walter

    ChristopherJ, you are right.

    Shaun Newman put it very well.

    Diannaart, it is the one thing they dread, that we become sane enough to realise how to live life and how little we need control freaks messing our heads and souls and lives.

  10. helvityni

    …yes Pierre Wilkinson, if everything is Labor’s doing, why do we need LNP at all.

  11. george theodoridis

    Many thanks, Helvi and all others who read the article.
    Sun Tzu never really impressed me. I read him many years ago and flick through the pages of his little tome just now to refresh my memory of it. I couldn’t see the value of his short, simplistic military suggestions and I doubt I’d make much use of them were I some military heavy.
    Were I a military heavy, I’d consult at the very least these guys, Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides. Homer wrote the most glowing anti war epic, the Iliad and described the characteristics of a hero and the total destruction of humaneness. Herodotus, in his Histories used the Persian Wars to describe bravery and Thucydides told us that the reason he wrote the History of the Peloponnesian War was to see what a war does to the moral compass of men. He didn’t like what he saw.

    I am reminded of Colin Powell, the big military heavy in the US army, who during the Iraq war he gave an interview during which he boasted that at his meetings with the generals he’d get them to read passages from Thucydides. Unfortunately he didn’t say which passages but I suspect I know. I have no love for either, Powell or the war but here’s what a military heavy did. He didn’t see much use in quoting Sun Tzu.

    If I were to enquire as to what makes a successful tyrant, I’d go to Machiavelli’s and if I’d want to know about how to behave when in the company of someone with a choleric nature, I’d ask mum, and dad if he were still alive. He was just as helpful.

    In this article I wanted to talk about the importance of words. Their preciousness. Their quality. The fact that they are mirrors of our soul. The fact that we should take good care of them. Feed them, nourish them, delight in them. The fact that we need a platform which would let us hear our own words, a platform like the ABC, for example. A platform that knows the value of words and how to use which of them when.
    I wanted to talk of the danger of interfering with that platform so that the words that are heard from it are not our own but someone else’s.

    Ezra Pound, in his “ABC of Reading” said something in the vicinity of “good writers are good because they happened to live at a time when the language is in good repair. (If I weren’t so lazy – exhausted, too- I’d go get the thin book down and copy the quote directly).
    In other words, words (and sure, gestures too, and sign language) are crucial for us. The state of the language reflects the state of the society.
    A pollution, a defilement in even the slightest degree of our words can be a lethal thing -lethal for all of us.

    We tell the truth with them and we tell lies with them. We dictate, intimidate and bully with them; and we woo with them… Remember Mr Keating in The Dead Poets Society? He asked his students, (words to the effect) “boys why do we write poetry?” and since the boys couldn’t answer he did: “to woo women.” To woo! That’s how important words are.

    Thank you Helvi for your encouragement. I shall try to do as you say.

  12. george theodoridis

    Exhibit 4: Alan Jones to Louise Herron: “I’d sack you… who do you think you are?
    The wild storm of words that Jones -a broadcaster used to Louise Herron, manager of the Opera House, through his microphone yesterday and the threatening, bullying, intimidating tone he used to deliver them to her -and it wasn’t just her, was it, we were all listening and Jones knew it and played on that- is exactly what I had in mind when I wrote the words above.

    Words can desecrate virtue. They can desecrate dignity, integrity, art, culture, politics, philosophy, religion, the very quintessence of what makes us sentient and humane.

    Jones has shown himself to be a raging, imperious, blustering, entitled barbarian, marching behind a huge army of his like, agreeing to do as he says because they are too weak kneed, too cowardly, far too worried about their self preservation rather than about what we, the people, the demos who pay them, have charged them to do.

    I am disgusted that the Opera House managers have even listened to the blustering mozzie hums of this man let alone to do whatever he says. And I am distressingly baffled by it. What a melancholy thing to witness!

    Once again the Labor Party does something quite abhorrent just before an election and so, once again, they turn people not only away from them but from the whole political process. The demos has realised that they are not treated as a demos, the most important part of the word Democracy but with the disdain usually afforded to a nuisance.
    The people simply don’t care what the name of the party is that wins the election; they know exactly how they’ll govern the govn’t.

  13. libby

    I was particularly impressed with the speed dear Gladys stood up for the ceo of the opera house, closely followed by the puppet pm

    I find alan jones an odious little toad but apparently he’s more poisonous than a cane toad and the cowards run scared

    in such a shallow talent pool it is no wonder that the scum rises to the top

    with 260000+ on the petition and at least the same number who haven’t put it in writing I would have thought that with wentworth going to the polls soon someone would have said maybe some of the people we have pissed off bigtime might not all be green or labour voters but that’s the lieberals for you – never think anything all the way through – it’s easier to lie about it later

    and to change the subject – with the exit of nicki haley the last brain cell has left the administration of disgusting donald – the mind boggles at how much lower he can go

  14. george theodoridis

    Indeed libby, indeed!
    The alacrity with which Gladys came to the aid of the hysterical toad, as you’ve rightly called him, shocked me and alarmed me; so did the alacrity with which Albo jumped to the podium to add his support for the view that even the most iconic exhibitions of our artistic achievements, of our love for the arts, the music, the ballet, the theatre, our admiration and adoration for the creativity of humans can be just a flat billboard for the use of selling brutality and his callous disregard for the treatment of Jones to Herron, a most loathsome exhibition of the absolute opposite to the exhibition invested in the Opera House.

    Shocked also with the utter silence from the rest of the Labor Party. Were they all asleep? Were they all of the same opinion, all singing in unison and from the same page of “Songs Of Crassness and Boganisms?” Or “The Book of Profit at Any cost?”

    Were they all… what are we to make of that bellowing silence from the ALP?
    We -or at least I- had some respect for the women in that party, Plibersek and Wong and others. Not an unfettered one, I must admit -who could possibly have an unfettered admiration for any politician (though Jacinda Arden across the ditch gets pretty close) but what had happened to our lot? Did a cow step on their tongue, as did upon the tongue of the night watchman in Aeschylus’ “Agamemnon,” who knew a lot but would utter none of it?

    We expected nothing less from Morrison who has the unique ability to speak in tongues and the profound disability to not see the value of valuable things but from the ALP?

    Had this incident not taken place, I’d wager quite confidently that Wentworth would be a mortal cataclysm for the Libs but now I’m not sure.
    Mercutio’s sentiment, I suggest, will be echoed by many, come Saturday-week: “A plague upon both your houses!”

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