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KATHERINE SHONFIELD

The past fortnight, yet again, has provided proof, as if our profession needed it, that only rarely does language approximate to an agreed definition between two parties. If Clinton gets away with his personal interpretation of the word 'sex' it will show that even the most apparently unequivocal words do not have a common meaning.

The buzz-word 'brownfield' has from its inception wallowed in a glorious mud of indefinability. All we know is that it is the opposite of greenfield. Green fields are tangible: they exist and people want to build on them. The only place you actually get a brown field, on the other hand, is when a green field is going about its lawful business and being ploughed up. In the first of many predictable problems of interpretation, the inner London borough of Islington has already given permission for new houses on one of its three nature reserves. They have no problem with this: 'We were asked to find brownfield sites and we have.'

Presumably, in their eyes, greenfield equates with green belt, making Islington firmly brown belt. Thus can new guidelines be neatly employed to do the diametric opposite of what others intended them for - to desecrate the only land that, were it outside the city, could possibly be called greenfield.

The Anglo-Saxon words we find most offensive, in Clinton's field of expertise, at any rate, are the ones which are crystal-clear in their meaning. Could it be that we continue to refuse to use them in everyday life because there are so many nasty things going on that we do not actually want to know about?

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