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  1. Politics
23 March 2007

Mean

How the rich become rich, billiards and other questions...

By Simon Munnery

MEAN

-ing is what I have been thinking about recently. Take the oft repeated though seldom spoken phrase “Tesco, every little helps” for example.

What does it mean? It has a noun at the beginning followed by two adjectives with a verb at the end; a most unusual structure – one hesitates to call it a sentence – unique, I believe; and ambiguous. Every little what helps who? One might ask. Presumably we are meant to presume every little saving helps the consumer ie. Save money by spending it.

At Tesco, yes, but that is almost an irrelevance; that’s why it has to to be at the start. The phrase focuses on the tiny savings we might make thereby obscuring the company’s huge profits. In reality every little helps Tesco. Does every little help the consumer? If in order to make these small savings one must travel to Tesco, investing time and money, and expose one’s feeble mind to the numerous over-priced temptations displayed in the shop, surely not.

Does the phase ‘every little helps’ pre-date Tesco’s use of it? I seem to remember it did but if it came to court who could afford the legal fees? In the future no one will remember. The phrase has already died out in conversation: who but a fool would repeat an advert?

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Did it used to mean every little earned -or saved – helps us?

Who? The poor presumably, poor consumer/worker. I don’t imagine top venture capitalists ever had this phrase as part of their philosophical armoury: “Let’s not worry about the big picture George, let’s concentrate on the tiniest of details, after all – every little helps”.

Though perhaps I am wrong, and the ultra rich become and remain so by sheer penny pinching meaness. The possessor of vast wealth is envied, but not entirely admired; for at the back of the skull lies the thought that to achieve it they must have done something very wrong indeed. Also, that wealth is a kind of fiction.

The joy of advertising surely is that one need not be constrained by accuracy as long as the phase is ambiguous or meaningless enough.

Tesco might like to try these: Tesco: Keeping prices pinned to the min & quality smacked to the max
or Tesco: Hitting the farmers hard – on your behalf.

And Morrisons might like to make a virtue of their low profit margins, large size and purported northern origins as a unique selling point with the phrase Morrisons: Using our clout to make nowt.

Obviously, I’m a Sainsbury’s fan myself. I like the atmosphere. And the singing: “Sainsbury’s! Sainsbury’s! Used to be grocer, became somewhat grosser, you say Tesco and I say no sir: Sainsbury’s! Sainsbury’s!”

“Sainsbury’s boys, we are here, Morrison: shit.”

“It’s clean it’s fresh at Sainsbury’s, apart from the petrol obviously”

Sometimes me and some of the other lads put our ‘Sainsbury’s is better’ T-shirts on and go down Tesco; to put them off their game, decrease their revenues. We don’t buy anything; we just wander round the aisles tutting, and occasionally exclaiming “how much?” or “Pwwoah, something smells rotten”. It’s a laugh.

In Kenya I believe they have a saying “If you wish to become king you must work like a slave”. Surely if you wish to be a slave work like a slave, and if you wish to be a king publicise a phrase like this and get others to be work like slaves for you.

My parents told me to look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. But this was not how they lived: they looked after the pennies and let the bank look after the pounds. Well, the absence of pounds to be accurate; they had a mortgage.

‘Tis said a fool and his money are easily parted’. But often they retain their hair until well into their fifties. The wise man presumably remains attached to his money right up to his death when it is prized from his clenched fingers using power tools.

Joseph Goebbels wrote “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” It’s the same for supermarkets presumably. The horror of the holocaust consists of the crime itself but more importantly the industrial efficiency with which it was carried out. With IBM computers.

In Australia they have a saying – just the one, but give them time – ‘shirt on shirt off’ which is not as one might imagine a handy way of remembering how to get undressed but a comment on the difference between one generation and the next. It means one generation works – shirt off – so the next doesn’t have to – shirt on – wastes the wealth, so the next generation must be work again. It’s a cycle.

A slogan that irks me is attributed to McKinsey Consultants. Who wrote it? It doesn’t even seem to have an author. Come on boys, own up or you’ll all be punished. “Everything can be measured and what gets measured gets managed”

Everything can be measured? Inaccurately. Everything can be measured inaccurately, and what gets measured inaccurately gets managed inaccurately: a recipe for disaster.

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle – which I have converted into verse ‘What you observe you disturb, and you can’t be certain behind the curtain’. Ironically the strange truth that allows the transistor to work – the building block of the measuring device’s intoxication with has surely provoked the slogan – indicates the fundamental smearedness of the universe; if a particle of light hits a particle of matter the result is not billiards: even billiards is not billiards.

And everything? That’s quite some generalisation fellah; you’re writing cheques with your mouth your brain cannae cash.

Obviously everything can’t be measured. Not at the same time anyway; only got two pairs of hands ain’t I? And in the interim, while one thing’s being measured and another’s not, inaccuracy creeps in. You can’t win. You can’t know everything, and the harder you look at it the more absurd the world becomes. So of course there’s a God.

I called my wife a bully the other day, ironically enough. Well not ironically enough because then she hit me, partially proving my point.

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