Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street, London, November 22, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Peter Nicholls

My father wrote a highly successful popular song titled “I Lift Up My Finger and I Say ‘Tweet Tweet.’” It benefited him greatly, promoting him to almost instant stardom on the London stage as he took over the leading role from Stanley Lupino in Love Lies at London’s Gaiety Theatre in 1929.

Originally he was Lupino’s understudy, but Laddie Cliff, the producer, asked my father to compose a song to close the first half of the show. The song became the hit number, sold a million copies and was featured comparatively recently by Hugh Laurie on the British television series Jeeves and Wooster.

Had the lyrics been very slightly changed to “I lift up the finger …” it would have conveyed a very different message, one a trifle more appropriate to our age.

But what brings it to mind is the refrain “Tweet Tweet.” To my astonishment, the world’s leaders no longer communicate with one another through carefully crafted letters or telegrams in which each word has been weighed to convey a message the portent of which will be fully understood by the recipient.

History is redolent of wars that were averted as well as started on the basis of such communications, where the sender was completely aware of the way that the words would be interpreted by the recipient.

Professional diplomats would spend years acquiring the necessary skills to be able to send a covert message, perhaps carrying an underlying threat but couched in courtesies that had to be plumbed for their true significance.

Communications in such nuanced language were intended to leave the addressee in no doubt as to the thrust of the message, albeit expressed in the most polite of terms lest gratuitous offense might be caused. This system enabled the chancelleries of the nations to digest and consider the ramifications of their response.

Yet today, we have the lunatic child Donald spewing forth his untitrated garbage in the early hours of the morning, before Nanny Kelly can take his toy away from him.

I was more than a little unimpressed to discover that former US president Barack Obama resorted to Twitter to make informal observations, but to the best of my recollection he never conducted international relations over this dangerous medium.

It came as no surprise to learn that Trump had uploaded even more bestial filth on to his Twitter account recently – presumably he has to do something to feed the moronic hordes who hang upon his latest halitoxic wanderings.

What did surprise and trouble me was that British Prime Minister Theresa May chose to respond via the same infantile channel.

A significant part of the trouble with instant gratification is that it is ill-considered if indeed considered at all. The brutish quality of a 140-word message – shortly to become 280 words but not really changing the telegraphic nature – is that it gives free rein to the semi-literate and those with a very limited vocabulary.

As a recruit in the army, it was immediately apparent that most of my barrack roommates made up for the paucity of their vocabulary by a liberal interspersing of the carnal act either as noun, verb or adjective.

If mankind is not to revert to Neanderthal grunts, barks and noisome abuse, we have to arrest this precipitous descent into the language of the jungle

This degree of illiteracy is a fairly accurate reflection of the individual’s capacity for verbal expression.

By way of contrast, when carefully considered, language is a medium of boundless beauty, capable of capturing our most complex thoughts and fashioning them to achieve precisely the effect that we wish.

And, as a lawyer, I appreciate the infinite capacity that language has to carry an unambiguous meaning or conversely, to conceal or even confuse.

But if mankind is not to revert to Neanderthal grunts, barks and noisome abuse, we have to arrest this precipitous descent into the language of the jungle.

If someone swears at you, by swearing back all you do is lower yourself to their standards. The mark of civilization is to rise above the animal kingdom.

States should be prohibited from communicating with one another by means of their leader’s Twitter account. Sanity and courtesy must be restored to international relations and if it means banning Twitter, so be it.

Languages metamorphose over time, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Before it became a social-media platform, twittering was how we described the sound of birds conversing.

Similarly, before Twitter, “twit” was a friendly way of describing a bit of an idiot. People who tweet are undoubtedly twits.

Those whose ability to communicate is limited to twittering are trumpelstiltskins, their frustrated little feet stamping up and down in impotent rage.

Neville Sarony

Neville Sarony QC is a noted Hong Kong lawyer with more than 50 years at the Bar.

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