I do like Sam Leith’s Standard column on a Monday evening. If a columnist manages to write something that chimes with your own views often enough, then when he challenges you he is more likely to persuade.
His column on ‘Broken Britain’ is one such example. He outlines why he thinks the phrase is more than a cliche. The final line has a twenty-first century feel:
Now a 15-year-old boy lies dead. Child fail, parent fail, police fail, passer-by fail. “Broken” does just about cover it.
Note the use of the word ‘fail’ as a sort of all encompassing noun. Rather than say “failed” (which begs the question, in which precise activity did they not succeed?) a ‘fail’ implies something more fundamental, a negation of one’s telos. it isn’t just setting ourselves a task and then not succeeding. Its a 180 degree reversal of the goal.
This concept is well understood by anyone who spends time on the Internet: there is a Fail Blog dedicated to funny examples, and it’s a staple of hashtagging (#O2fail, or #BCAfail, say). Nevertheless, it is interesting to see it in a newspaper, used ‘properly’ by the writer to conveys both an astonishment and the events described, but also the scale of the tragedy and it’s wider implications.