Siberian town bans "I don't know." Violators will be sent to . . . Siberia

Dennis Baron debaron at UIUC.EDU
Fri Sep 7 05:22:34 UTC 2007

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Siberian town bans "I don't know."  Violators will be sent to . . .  

There'll be no more passing the ruble in the Siberian town of  
Megion.  Its mayor has banned the phrase "I don’t know," and he's  
promised that civil servants who say "It's impossible," "It’s not my  
job," or twenty other synonyms for no-can-do will lose their jobs.

"I don’t know," "What can we do?" and similar expressions have long  
been hallmarks of a bureaucratic mentality intent on doing as little  
as possible, and the failure to respond to the needs of the citizenry  
had become a cliché of Soviet-era Russia, though it also  
characterizes the American government's response to Hurricane Katrina.

The Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer used to tell this joke about  
the do-nothing Communist management style:

What happened when the people’s revolution came to the desert?
For the first six months, nothing changed.  And then there was a  
shortage of sand.

But the days are long gone when five year plans meant one step  
forward, two steps back, as are those heady times when enemies of the  
state were simply assassinated – well, gone except for the occasional  
gunning-down-in-broad-daylight on a Moscow street or the not-too- 
subtle-radiation-poisoning of former KGB operatives in London hotels.

And now that Russia is converting to a capitalist economy, where raw  
talent is prized over blindly following the party line and any street  
urchin can one day grow up to be president, so long as they have the  
support of the army and the secret police, customer service has  
become the order of the day.

And so, municipal employees of Megion, a town of 54,000 that has  
become a center for Siberia’s oil and gas industries, must tell the  
new mayor all the different ways a given problem can be solved  
instead excusing themselves with, "It's time for lunch" or "I was on  
vacation when that came up."

Can speech be banned in Russia? And if you can't Siberians to  
Siberia, where can you send them?  Find out these and other exciting  
ansers, read the whole post and see the illustrations at

the Web of Language

Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321

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