The Chancellor is expected to …

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne (© HM Treasury - used with permission (Open Government Licence))

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne
(© HM Treasury – used with permission (Open Government Licence))

“The Chancellor is expected to…” that’s the headline on BBC Five Live’s breakfast news bulletins today – with similar being used across the BBC network and throughout the media. But what, exactly, is the Chancellor expected to do? Or, more importantly, who is it that expects him to do this?

What we do know is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, will deliver one of two annual keynote financial speeches to the House of Commons. Chancellors deliver their annual budget speech in the Spring, just before the start of the new tax year. The Autumn statement is an opportunity to outline more general economic policies, to put across the government’s position on the economy, and to tease out ideas that may or may not be in next year’s budget. It is also an opportunity to make immediate financial changes, but these tend to be rare and limited.

So, what is the Chancellor expected to do today? Well, according to news reports he will announce his intention to raise the state retirement age; the effect of this is that if you’re in your forties now, you won’t be able to retire until you’re 68; and if you’re under 40 your minimum retirement age will be 70.

But just who is it that “expects” the Chancellor to say this? Is it an expectation or is it a prediction? What if the Chancellor doesn’t say this?

Well, it would appear that Mystic Meg wasn’t involved in creating the BBC’s expectation. Nor was the budget statement leaked. Nor have the BBC’s excellent band of financial journalists pieced together snippets of information to ascertain what the Chancellors likely options are. This “expectation” that the Chancellor will raise the retirement age came in a press statement from the Treasury.

In which case, surely this “announcement” is already “announced.”

According to BBC News Online: “The government has already announced the state pension age will increase to 66 by 2020 and 67 by 2028; these dates will not change. But it said in a statement: ‘Under current estimates of life expectancy the principle being confirmed today implies the SPA (state pension age) rise to 68 could come forward to the mid-2030s, from its current date of 2046, rising to 69 by the late 2040s. This will affect people in their forties and below; no-one over 50 will have a retirement age of 68 or more.'”

So, there you have it. The Chancellor isn’t expected to announce anything; but rather he will reiterate confirmation of a principle that has already been announced in a press statement.

“The Chancellor is expected to…” is a form of journalese – words or phrases used only by people like me! The journalist Rob Hutton has collated a veritable collection of these into a fascinating and amusing book, Romps, Tots and Boffins: The strange language of news.”

Have you ever noticed that, according to newspapers, ambulances always “race to the scene”? Catholics are always devout, Protestants are staunch, and any dispute with a church connection is always a “holy row”.

Saying that “somebody is expected to say…” anything may be a mild form of journalese; but journalese it is. When have you ever heard such a phrase outside the media? 

Rob Hutton’s little book has many more – much funnier – examples of journalese, including:

Eleventh hour The time at which one should start expecting “last-ditch” negotiations or “last-gasp” interventions.

Facing charges They haven’t been charged with a crime, they may never be charged with a crime, but they could be charged with one.

Ill-fated Frankly, it was inevitable that anything that ”started as an innocent day out’’ would turn out to have ”ended in tragedy’’.

Influential Any group that can get a letter printed in a national paper.

With Christmas coming up, it will make an excellent stocking filler; but be warned: once you’ve started to glance through this book, you won’t want to give it away!

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