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truth or actualité?

April 18, 2023

Yesterday I was reading a piece in the Times by Emma Duncan and she used the intensely annoying expression economical with the actualité. 

            It’s an ill-advised twist on the older expression economical with the truth, which was used by Cabinet Secretary Sir Robert Armstrong in 1986, to mean, not outright lying, but giving a false impression by suppressing certain facts. But in fact it predates Armstrong by a couple of centuries; according to the Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable it was used by Edmund Burke in the 18th century. 

            In 1992, during the Matrix Churchill trial, Tory MP and 24-carat arsehole Alan Clark decided he could improve on the phrase and drawled ‘It’s our old friend, being economical with the actualité’ – presumably under the impression that actualité is the French word for truth. It’s not, of course. The French for truth is la verité. The word actualité does exist in French but it means topicality or, in the plural, the news. 

            Mystifyingly, nobody corrected Clark, either then or since, with the result that, over thirty years later, journalists are still employing that ghastly old bastard’s imbecilic coinage as though it’s a scintillating witticism. It’s a jolly good job I’m here to set the record straight. 

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One Comment
  1. Simon Carter permalink

    Maybe it’s another example of whimsical pronunciation like Nigella Lawson’s “meecro wahvay”.
    I didn’t know that arseholes are graded in carats but if it comes up in the pub quiz I’ll be glad of the information.

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