There’s been a bit of fuss recently over whether, and with what definition, the word Blairism should appear in new dictionaries. The Compact Oxford found no room for it, saying that the word must pass the test of time. The compilers of the New Penguin were braver, but, it seems, had a devil of a time choosing an appropriate definition. One happy draft referred to ‘the absence of a fundamental underlying ideology’ and ‘close attention to prevailing public opinion’. Unfortunately the final words chosen were more bland: ‘especially regarded as a modified form of traditional socialism’. A letter in the Guardian pointed out that Oliver Wendell Holmes defined blairing in 1858 as ‘polishing into correctness and smoothness’ (after the philosopher Hugh Blair, 1718-1800), which seems closer to the mark. Perhaps the Penguin compilers should also have reached for their Robert and looked up the French verb blairer, as in je ne peux pas le blairer (‘he gives me the creeps’).
The full text of this article is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.