Pietersen and Prescriptivism

Here we have a blogpost by Ash Navrady, another student in my MA course Testing Prescriptivism:

In the early months of 2014, the English Cricket Board made the controversial decision to ‘sack’ star batsman Kevin Pietersen in the aftermath of the disastrous Ashes tour defeat to Australia, where ironically Pietersen was the top run scorer for England in that series.

Kevin Pietersen walks off the field of play for the last time in an England shirt

For those who do not follow cricket, I will put Kevin Pietersen into context. Arguably the finest English batsman of his generation, Pietersen is a cricketing maverick, a proven match winner and while at the age of 33 he is in the autumn of his career, he certainly has a few more years of genius left at international level. As a character, he is typically ‘un-English’; born in South Africa he is often perceived as arrogant with his unashamedly open desire to win. Nevertheless, he is also the English team’s most lucrative asset; fans will happily pay to watch him bat, more so than any other English cricketer in living memory. Pietersen putting bums on seats means more revenue for the ECB. Inevitably, when the ECB released a statement explaining the axing of ‘KP’, it caused massive uproar from the press and supporters of English cricketers alike …

… but what does this have to do with prescriptivism?

In chapter 2 of Milroy & Milroy’s (1999) Authority in Language, the authors identify two types of prescriptivism, and it is the latter form of prescriptivism (Type 2 as Milroy & Milroy name it) which I will focus upon in relation to the sacking of Kevin Pietersen. Regarding Type 2 prescriptivism, Milroy & Milroy (1999: 31) explain: “Type 2 complaints, which we may call ‘moralistic’, recommend clarity in writing and attack what appear to be abuses of language that may mislead and confuse the public.”

This type of prescriptivism, which is illustrated in George Orwell’s (1946) essay “Politics and the English Language”, does not concentrate upon using the wrong word in the wrong context for example, but focuses more upon the dishonest and immoral use of language by institutions towards the public. Thus, I present to you, the statement released by the ECB regarding the decision to permanently banish one of the greatest batsmen in world cricket after nearly a decade of thrilling and often sublime entertainment.

It’s a bit disappointing isn’t it? It’s non-descript to the extent of being intelligence-insulting. As readers we are not given a reason for the sacking of Pietersen, but we are treated to bureaucratic verbiage that would see Orwell spinning in his grave. Milroy & Milroy (1999: 36) promote Orwell’s criticism of “the artificiality and emptiness of propaganda slogans and political jargon”. The ECB oblige this type of criticism by beginning their explanation of the sacking by stating that “both parties remain bound by confidentiality provisions”, which is quite a purposefully deviant manner of stating that KP has been silenced and they have no intention of explaining their reasons.

Rather than giving a straightforward answer to the sacking of KP, we are instead inundated with evasive expressions regarding the English cricket team, which includes a call to “invest in our captain Alistair Cook”, an emphasis  on “creating a culture” and a personal favourite the stubborn need for  “everyone pulling the same direction”. This type of language was a bugbear of Orwell (1946:134), who emphasised that “[b]y using stale metaphors, similes and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself”. Thus, the conclusion of the ECB’s statement concerning KP’s dismissal raises more questions than it gives answers.

From a personal perspective, there is no justifiable reason to axe Pietersen, except that the ECB simply do not like his personality. This is why the language used to explain his permanent omission from the England team activates the Type 2 prescriptivist in me; after all, as Orwell (1946: 136) states, “[i]n our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible.”


Milroy, James & Milroy, Lesley (1999).  Authority in Language (3rd ed). London: Routledge

Orwell, George (1946). Politics and the English Language. In S. Orwell & I. Angus (eds.) (1968), The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (Vol. IV). London: Secker & Warburg.

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1 Response to Pietersen and Prescriptivism

  1. tonyparr236437852 says:

    It’s all there between the lines, Ash! The confidentiality provisions apply equally to the ECB, by the way, which may explain why they are so keen to mince their words. Afraid of the other side’s lawyers, perhaps?

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