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Magazine 杂志:Revolution

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2017年03月20日

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Revolution

by John Kuti

The other day I was watching a debate on TV on the subject “Should it be compulsory to learn English?” The speaker chosen to oppose the idea was Vladimir Zhirinovskiy – a politician who many people in Europe think is a dangerous extremist. He said that one of the causes of the problems in Russia’s sad history in the 20th century was the use of imported words which people didn’t fully understand. “Revolution” (or the Russian word “revolyutsia”) was one of these. He also mentioned “communism” and “privatisation”. If you use other words like “revolt”, “rebellion” or “coup d’état” the idea of changing the government by force seems a lot less attractive. Calling some important change “a revolution” can make people think it is good, or maybe that it’s something that no one can stop, as the Marxists used to say.

Going forwards

Since the 19th century there has been an idea that certain changes in society must happen. Are you optimistic about the human race? I guess most people still are. I think most people believe in Progress…you know: “Scientists get closer to the truth. Societies improve. We’ve never had it so good. A Pentium 4 is better than a Pentium 3”.

I think it is dangerous when someone says that all our problems will be solved by new technology, or by choosing a government with a more modern ideology. Revolutions seem to depend on the hope of a beautiful future, maybe that’s why they end in disappointment. Some people are so optimistic that they can forget about reality altogether. They can make logic work backwards…I remember, back in my days as a student political activist, having arguments about Chinese history with the young members of The Socialist Workers’ Party – enthusiasts for revolution. They used to say that there had been no revolution in China. This was because the results had not been the happy ones that they expected.

What’s another word for it?

If you look on the website http://www.visualthesaurus.com/online/ you can find words with similar meanings to the one you type in. Starting with “revolution” the visual thesaurus gives:

coup coup d’état insurgency
insurrection mutiny putsch
revolt takeover

uprising

Which word to choose?

When you want to choose a word really carefully it’s a good idea to see how other people use it. In my experiment I used the Times newspaper from March 1995, and the website at

http://vlc.polyu.edu.hk/concordance/WWWConcappE.htm

This site is called a “concordancer” and it lets you look at how words are used. You can choose different materials instead of The Times, but I thought a newspaper would have more about politics. It mentions one revolution the socialist workers might agree really happened “Cuba’s Marxist revolution” but also one change of style by a Marxist government “China’s cultural revolution,” and two changes of government where the Marxists lost power: “Czechoslovakia’s velvet revolution” and “Estonia’s singing revolution”.

However, more often than any of these, “revolution” is just used to talk about a general change in the way people live or work. The most common of these is the “industrial revolution” which happened more than 200 years ago in Britain when they started making steam engines and factories. The newspaper thinks these other revolutions might be happening now…

Educational revolution, Sexual revolution, Information revolution, Telemarketing revolution,Training revolution,

When something not so big or important happens you can still call it a “minor revolution”. The Times reports one minor revolution in Edinburgh – people starting to live in some old buildings that had been used as offices for a long time.

Of the other words in my list “coup” is used most often. This is a short way of saying “coup d’état” and it usually refers to a revolution organised by people who are already quite close to the top of the government. A revolution organised by people a long way from power might be better called an “uprising”.

In The Times, “a revolt” or “a mutiny” usually happens inside a British political party when ordinary Members of Parliament disagree with the leaders of their party. But the newspaper also mentions a revolt by shareholders who did not agree with the managers of the company they had invested in.

“Takeover” belongs especially to the field of business. In March 1995 there was a big story about the “hostile takeover bid” by Glaxo for another pharmaceutical company – Wellcome.

I think Zhirinovskiy was right – “revolution” is a word that makes you want to believe in it. It means “this is better than what there was before”. Of course, The Times is not a revolutionary newspaper, but in this case it chooses words just like those “socialist worker” students optimistically waiting for the revolution which will automatically make everything better.


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