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Words that think for us: culture

Edward Skidelsky on a word that has gone from the sublime to the shapeless

Modern English contains a number of locutions whose sole purpose is to shift agency from individuals to collectives. “Peer pressure” is one such trickster—a blatant one, since the peers in question must presumably have been pressured by other peers, and so on. Another is “epidemic,” as in epidemic of obesity, drug addiction, etc. (Here the medical metaphor is clearly misplaced. One does not “catch” heroin; one chooses to inject it.) But the chief offender is undoubtedly “culture.” It is just as well that I do not carry a revolver. Otherwise, I would be tempted to imitate Goebbels by reaching for…

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