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WORD OF THE WEEK: eye-servant

(n.) a worker who only busies themselves when they’re being observed

(n.) a worker who only busies themselves when they’re being observed 

Let’s be honest, this hasn’t been the most edifying week in politics.

At one end of the spectrum – let’s call it the “Surely That Didn’t Actually Happen?” end – we saw presumptive Prime Minister Boris Johnson gleefully brandish a smoked herring above his head, while loudly admonishing the EU for its outrageous kipper-packaging rules that (spoiler alert!) it soon emerged were actually being imposed by the UK. 

Oppositely, at the “Surely This Shouldn’t Actually Happen?” end of things, we saw the President of the United States smugly presiding over a chilling chant of “SEND HER BACK!” at his latest Klan – sorry – campaign rally in North Carolina, having launched a renewed attack against Somali-born Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

The fallout from this latest Trumpian low quickly morphed into an exercise among the President’s fellow Republicans in how to call someone a racist without actually using the word ‘racist’, while President Trump himself later attempted to dial back the outrage by claiming that he had actually made an effort to stop the chant “very quickly” after it started. (Despite all that pesky video evidence proving that, y’know, he didn’t). 

How to sum up such a ghastly week in one word? Well, we almost went with the word kipper itself, which in allusion to the haphazard arrangement of herrings in a fishermen’s barrel, can be used as a verb meaning “to work or act thoughtlessly.” Case in point, Boris Johnson. Also on the shortlist was tapinosis, a term from rhetoric for the expression of something in terms that diminish its seriousness or significance. Case in point, Republicans’ avoidance of using the word racist to describe things that are, well, overtly racist.

And apodioxis was in with a shout too: another term from rhetoric for unthinkingly rebuffing someone’s argument as false or impertinent, regardless of how true or valid it actually is. Case in point, President Trump’s flagrant rejection of his actions in Carolina – and, for that matter, Brexit MEP Alexandra Philips’ startling flat-out refusal that she ever worked for Cambridge Analytica. Speaking of which… 

Far from being the only party to pull their weight, it seemed, the Brexiters had unwittingly revealed themselves as the only party who hadn’t made any friends in the schoolyard

Amidst all of the kipper-waving and race-baiting that dominated the headlines, the election of Ursula von der Leyen as the new EU President this week was relegated to the inside pages – taking with it three incredible own goals by Brexit United in their latest match in Strasbourg.

As the Brexit Party’s proud MEPs (mostly) took their seats in the EU Parliament again this week, they were soon keen to relight (or rather, gaslight) the fires of their anti-EU propagandising machine. 

Firstly, with von der Leyen’s victory being secured by just a nine-vote margin, Nigel Farage promptly took to Twitter to question the validity of such a narrow result. “Power but no legitimacy,” he squawked – seemingly oblivious to the fact that that nine-vote margin roughly equated to a 52/48 split. 1-0 to Remain FC. 

Other Brexiters, meanwhile, were just as quick to question when the ‘confirmatory vote’ to finalise von der Leyen’s presidency would be, seemingly keen to chalk her victory up as another example of the EU’s lack of democracy, and smugly pile yet more evidence against the need for a People’s Vote on Brexit. Alas, no such luck: the somewhat unexpected answer to their otherwise rhetorical question was October 2019 – once the newly elected president has organised her supporting team and her policies. Another own goal. 

That left the score at 2-0. And there was just enough time left for the hat-trick. 

On Tuesday, a photograph began to do the rounds on social media purporting to show that the Brexit Party were now “the only party currently bothering to turn up for EU debates.”

Unfortunately for them, as Richard Tice, Claire Fox and more than a dozen of their fellow Brexit MEPs proudly posed for the camera in a mostly empty parliamentary chamber, no one thought to cover the wristwatch of East Midland MEP Matthew Patten. 4.05pm it read – proving that the photograph of the empty parliament chamber was actually taken five minutes into a scheduled break in proceedings. Far from being the only party to pull its weight, it seemed, the Brexiters had unwittingly revealed themselves as the only party who hadn’t made any friends in the schoolyard, and so had nobody to hang around with at playtime. 

This is not the first time the Brexit Party has come under fire for professing its somewhat questionable hard-working credentials. Back in March, Dutch MEP Esther de Lange famously posted a video to Twitter of Nigel Farage pacing his way out of the EU chamber having made no contribution to the current debate, but having nevertheless recorded a video of his latest anti-EU diatribe. Watch Mr Farage’s video for a snapshot of a tireless working politician, keen to fight for the UK’s interests against a SPECTRE-like EU. Watch de Lange’s video for a snapshot of a man who only grafts when he has an audience. 

And, as it happens, there’s a word for that. An eye-servant is a worker who only busies themselves when they’re being observed. 

Proving that work-shy shirkers are by no means new, this term dates back to the mid 1500s in English – but has its roots firmly planted in the New Testament. 

“Servants,” St Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians, “obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eye-service as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart.” From St Paul’s evocative eye-service came the equally imaginative eye-servant in the 16th century (and, later, the more familiar expression lip-service) – and this word for the shyest of workshy workers has remained in albeit infrequent use ever since. 

Illustration by @Bread_and_Ink 

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