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PRESIDENT Duterte’s politically incorrect language is turning out to be his administration’s Achilles’ heel and his advisers’ road to the Tower of Babel. What he needs is a good talking-to, but who’ll do the talking if he hears but won’t heed?

A fence-sitter would see/hear the problem as two-fold. First, his audience: 100 days after his election, they’re still shocked by his utterances and mutterances. Second, his language: not the vocabulary per se but his choice of English to communicate his thoughts. Yes, English, the lingua franca, the most widely spoken language in the world.

When a public speaker delivers a speech in English or makes an aside or cracks a joke in English, the whole world understands what he’s saying. But let him speak in swahili or panggalatok, chabacano or waray and they won’t be so quick on the draw to criticize him. Sure, they can pull in an interpreter, but our advantage is being able to bank on something getting lost in translation. Something may be gained, too, and that is a window to correct the correction while aiming to throw a light on the offending remarks, “What the President really meant. . .”

Why should the President’s men do the translating when his (foreign) critics can find and hire their own interpreters? When language gets in the way, deniability is possible.

Senator Dick Gordon, chairman of the committee on justice, displayed oratorical flair – in English and Pilipino – when he asked questions and blew his top at last Monday’s hearing. So much so that he got carried away and dissed his own Wow Philippines slogan. “Wow P.I.!” he exclaimed, blood rushing to his face as he urged the President to watch his language. “Wow P.I.!,” he repeated. Knowing Dick, he did not mean P.I. to stand for Philippine Islands but as a takeoff from that favorite expletive of DUdirty talk. Yes, the knack for using the phrase is spreading. Yes, there’s an English equivalent, but it sounds better – i.e., worse – in our language. (Jullie Y. Daza)