It is rare that a member of the Senate of Canada affords so exquisite an opportunity to drink deeply the rich elixir that is the English language. So let us compliment Marjory LeBreton, the federal Government’s chief representative in the Upper Chamber, for her recent, and truly marvelous, display of verbal pyrotechnics.
To be perfectly clear, here’s exactly what she said in a speech last week: “We moved at the first opportunity to make the Senate more open, accountable and transparent. It was determined from September 2010 onward, Senators expenses would be publicly reported on a quarterly basis. Had that not taken place – no one would have been any the wiser. Things would have carried on in the old Liberal way –nudge, nudge, wink, wink!”
Indeed, she said, “The reality. . .is that we are facing this crisis because we flung open the door and revealed what was going on and now rather than being credited for doing so, we are paying the price for taking this important and necessary step.”
Alas, she added, “I am not surprised. I am a Conservative and I know more than most that around this town, populated by Liberal elites and their media lickspittles, tut-tutting about our government and yearning for the good old days, that we are never given the benefit of doubt and are rarely given credit for all the good work that we do.”
Lickspittle. What a most excellent word; a true mouthful of antiquated bile and embalmed moral authority.
“A useful functionary, not infrequently found editing a newspaper,” is how the 19th century American writer Ambroise Bierce defined the “lickspittle” in his masterwork of humour, The Devil’s Dictionary. Such a cad, he wrote, “is closely allied to the blackmailer by the tie of occasional identity; for in truth the lickspittle is only the blackmailer under another aspect, although the latter is frequently found as an independent species. Lickspittling is more detestable than blackmailing, precisely as the business of a confidence man is more detestable than that of a highway robber; and the parallel maintains itself throughout, for whereas few robbers will cheat, every sneak will plunder if he dare.”
Modern definitions, found in online dictionaries, include, “a fawning underling; a toady; a flattering or servile person” and “a contemptible person.”
Lickspittle’s closest synonym is, perhaps, “sycophant” from the Latin “sycophanta”. According to a Wiktionary entry it denotes “one who uses compliments to gain self-serving favor or advantage from another; one who seeks to gain through the powerful and influential.” A lickspittle, therefore, is also an “ass-kisser, brown-noser, suck-up, yes man, parasite, flunky” or “lackey.”
Sadly, this detestable creature can be found in nearly all walks of life, doing the loathsome bidding of their profane superiors in every country of the world. During the Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, you could have papered the walls of the Oval Office with them. These days, you can observe them at the IRS, targeting conservative groups seeking tax exemptions.
And while Ms. LeBreton may be justified in vilifying the “media lickspittles” in her midst, sometimes it works the other way around.
“The president and chief executive officer of The Associated Press. . .called the government’s secret seizure of two months of reporters’ phone records unconstitutional,” The Washington Times reported earlier this month. Gary Pruitt. . .said the move already has had a chilling effect on journalism. (He) told CBS’ ‘Face the Nation’ that the government has no business monitoring the AP’s newsgathering activities. ‘If they restrict that apparatus. . .the people of the United States will only know what the government wants them to know, and that’s not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment,’ he said.”
In fact, about the only institution, public or private, that remains utterly devoid of lickspittles is a certain branch of the Canadian Parliament, where 105 unelected members, appointed by the Governor General on the “advice” of the prime minister exercise only the soundest judgement, free of influence, in the lofty interest of the citizens they represent.
Isn’t that true, Ms. LeBreton? What, pray tell, is your word for them?