"Brain fade" in Britain

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Ian Preston sent a link to a recent article about slips of the tongue by David Cameron in the current election campaign in the UK (Matt Dathan, "David Cameron makes another gaffe: 'This election is all about my career… sorry, I mean country'", The Independent 5/2/2015:

David Cameron has made another gaffe on the election campaign trail – this time saying how election was a “career defining” moment when he meant to say “country defining”.

The article continues:

Labour pounced on his remarks, claiming it was proof that he “puts his career before the country”. “It’s all about Dave,” the party tweeted.

But Ian notes that phrases like "career-defining performance" and "career-defining event" are fairly common, whereas he was unable to find genuine examples of "country-defining X" before the explosion of stories about Cameron's slip. In fact there are a handful of country-defining Xs Out There:

In the 1880s, savvy politicians promoted the Battle of Rivas as a country-defining event.

This is not a 'city-defining' or 'country-defining' event. Normalcy will return, and Canada's morals will continue to better the world.

With this country defining moment we must ask ourselves what drove us to the convention that would define a new nation.

Still, it's true that country is several orders of magnitude less common in construction with defining than career is, so that  country-definingcareer-defining is a highly plausible Fay-Cutler malapropism. The frequentistic motivation is strong enough that we don't need to look for a Freudian boost, and so I'm inclined to agree with Ian's conclusion: "Mindful of your invocation of John 8:7, I have to say this one doesn't  convince me."

The press, of course, has a different opinion, or at least a different set of interests, and so the meme-formation process is well underway:

It is the third slip of the tongue by Mr Cameron in a week after he forgot which football team he supported and also forgot the date of the election – mistakenly saying it was May 9 instead of May 7.

The date slip-up strikes me as a non-story — never getting a date wrong is a suspicious trait, in my opinion, like having a clean desk. But the team-name substitution (Caroline Mortimer, "David Cameron forgets if he's an Aston Villa or West Ham fan", The Independent 4/25/2015) seems harder to explain without invoking the idea that Mr. Cameron is less of a true fan than he has presented himself as being:

David Cameron’s claim to be a big football fan received a bit of kicking at a campaign event in Croydon today after he told the audience he supported West Ham- despite previously claiming he was a huge Aston Villa fan.

At the event he paid tribute to Britain’s multiculturalism saying “We are a shining example of a country where multiple identities work.”

He went on to say the country was a place where “you can support Man Utd, the Windies and Team GB all at the same time. Of course, I'd rather you supported West Ham.”

When asked about his sudden change in footballing loyalty, Cameron said he was still a Villa fan and blamed the slip up on a “brain fade”.

I like the term "brain fade", which is apparently a metaphorical (and phonological) extension of "brake fade".


  1. AntC said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 4:55 am

    Interesting. Here in NZ we have a Prime Minister who's made something of a career-defining habit of the brain fade.

  2. Narmitaj said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 9:17 am

    Apparently Cameron claimed his brain fade was due to "passing" the West Ham ground the day before – it turns out in his helicopter.

    The first time I think I noticed "brain fade" was earlier in the election when the Green leader claimed it of herself when making a hash of remembering their housing policy: ""I didn't do a great job this morning, I had a brain fade, that happens," she said. "What I'm aiming to do is face up to that, and then move on.""

  3. Alex Clark said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 11:26 am

    The more common colloquialism for forgetting something obvious, is brain fart. I am guessing that brain fade which I had never heard before is a more polite version of that.

  4. Theophylact said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 11:39 am

    "Brain fart" is in USage.

  5. AntC said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 3:59 pm

    @Alex, @Theophylact, that wiktionary entry notwithstanding, brain fart is a kind of mis-speaking/slip of the tongue, so exactly covers the David Cameron remark of myl's post.

    Whereas brain fade (at least in NZ journalistic usage) is (claimed) loss of memory of events you would have thought a politician would be paying particular attention to. Curiously there's also in NZ one featuring a (apparently forgotten) helicopter ride.

  6. SeekTruthFromFacts said,

    May 3, 2015 @ 9:29 pm

    It seems that Ms Bennett is the vector for the phrase's transfer from Antipodean to UK English.

  7. William said,

    May 4, 2015 @ 7:41 am

    I don't get how this is a plausible Fay-Cutler malapropism. "Country-defining" is the kind of thing no one ever says, as you demonstrate. So the phrase he had in mind HAD to be "career-defining," don't you think? Fay-Cutler malapropisms occur when you say something unusual like "committed of a crime," because it's similar to something common — "convicted of a crime." Here he said something very common: "career-defining" and claims he meant to say something vanishingly rare: "country-defining." Props to Freud, say I. This is a good testicle of his theories.

  8. Terry Collmann said,

    May 4, 2015 @ 5:39 pm

    It may or may not be relevant that West Ham and Aston Villa traditionally play in identical colours, claret shorts with light blue sleeves, and white shorts. This may have contributed to Cameron's brain fart.

  9. pjharvey said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 1:54 am

    Whilst it is the case that West Ham and Aston Villa play in identical colours, this is precisely the sort of slip a non-fan of the game would make.

    Cameron must have been thinking of the strip first and name second to make this slip, and I highly doubt a real fan could accidentally confuse the name of their team with that of another.

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