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WORD OF THE WEEK: demonagerie

(n.) a demonic menagerie

(n.) a demonic menagerie

“Whether it’s throwing people under the bus or writing a lie on the side of one,” Jo Swinson commented this week, “Britain deserves better than Boris Johnson.”

So it’s just a shame we’ve got him, really. 

Yes, this was the week in which the UK elected its new Prime Minister. And by ‘elected’, read ‘had foisted upon it’. And by ‘the UK’, read ‘two-thirds of the 87% of Conservative Party members who actually cast a vote’. Or 0.19% of the British electorate.

Predictably, Johnson’s first few days in charge were full of all the usual vain bluster and blustering vanity we’ve come to expect from him. His debut speech outside Number 10 was a machine-gun paced rat-a-tat-tat through everything from safer streets to full-fibre broadband, and his maiden speech in the House of Commons the following day continued in much the same way. 

Pledges and slogans were plentiful, but solid details were still painfully lacking: no word yet on how the EU might be coerced into reopening negotiations, for instance, or what shape a workable solution to the Irish border problem might take.

“I got the impression that he wasn’t just talking about deleting the backstop, he was talking about a whole new deal,” Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar observed. “Any suggestion that there can be a whole new deal negotiated in weeks or months is totally not in the real world.”

There is a word for talking nothing but empty bluster, of course, and that’s bloviating – a word now so pressingly useful we’ve already crowned it Word of the Week once before. So instead, let’s pull something new from the murkier corners of the dictionary. Something, perhaps, that ties in with Boris Johnson pulling almost his entire cabinet from the murkier corners of his party. 

While the 99.81% of the electorate who didn’t get a say in their new Prime Minister were still reeling from his victory, Johnson was busying himself selecting his new team.

Among the first names to be confirmed were – deep breath – disgraced Vote Leave founder Dominic Cummings, who is currently held in contempt of Parliament; disgraced former Development Secretary Priti Patel, who was forced to resign from Theresa May’s Government in 2017 for holding secret meetings with Israeli diplomats; and disgraced former Defence Secretary Gavin Williams, who was sacked from Theresa May’s Government less than three months ago, for his apparent role in the Huawei leak. 

It was hardly shaping up to be the most stellar of teams, clearly, but as the hours ticked by those big names just kept on coming. 

Esther McVey, who once called the spiralling use of foodbanks a “positive move” – and is apparently a woman so disagreeable that even Lorraine Kelly doesn’t like her – was named Housing Minister. Dominic Raab, who once admitted to having “not quite understood” how reliant UK trade was on the Dover-Calais crossing, was of course the natural choice for Foreign Secretary. And Andrea Leadsom, one of the first Conservative converts to a ‘no deal’ Brexit, was an equally natural choice for Business Secretary. 

Liz Truss, who as Justice Secretary once claimed that barking dogs could be used to deter drones from flying drugs into prisons, was now International Trade Secretary. And, truer to form than anyone could ever have expected, the newly appointed Leader of the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, spent a large part of his frontbench debut arguing with the Speaker about the true etymology of the word archaic

If you’re after a word to describe such a motley bunch as this, then, you can’t do much worse than demonagerie – a word coined in 1848 for a literal ‘demonic menagerie’, or a collection of monsters, if you will.

Think of Michelangelo’s Torment of St Anthony, for instance – or the updated version which that stands at the top of this page… 

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