Tuesday, December 30, 2014

English Lesson from Frank Underwood

Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood
No matter where you’re from or what you believe in, you may agree that those who hold power at any level, and especially those who hold political power have the upper hand on the effective use of language. Anywhere in the world. Any language. After all, language is the tool of choice that politicians use to gain support of their constituents.

The critically minded will usually agree that politicians use that language to tell a story.  The story people want to hear. About values, destiny and the national cause. Believers will buy it. Opponents obviously won’t. Others will not care so long as it doesn’t affect them. But a few out there will read between the lines and figure out that it’s mostly a game. A game where the politicians, their inner circle and business associates win and mostly everybody else loses. A victory achieved by carefully choosing the right words.

So what if a ruthless and cunning politician actually admitted that most of what he or she says was a lie… but only to you. What if this person revealed the truth about everything. The corruption, the deals, the hypocrisy and of course, his or her true goals. Well, that is one of the main drivers behind the success of the Netflix political drama House of Cards. The show follows the story of Frank and Claire Underwood, a Washington power couple on their way to the presidency of the United States.

In each episode, Frank stops for a moment and delivers his real vision of things… to you, the audience. In these confessionary moments, Frank is blunt, dramatic, often has a point, and uses all kinds of linguistic and literary devices to support his message. For the audience, it’s a moment to learn about Underwood’s true intentions. However, for English Users, it’s also a chance to understand the language of power and deception.

Here is a selection of some of these moments. The transcript of each one follows below:

  • “And the butchery begins.”
  • “Any pugilist worth his salt knows when someone's on the rope,that's when you throw a combination to the gut and a left hook to the jaw.”
  • “In Gaffney we had our own brand of diplomacy. Shake with your right hand and have a rock in your left.”
  • “I’ve always loathed the necessity of sleep. Like death, it puts even the most powerful men on their backs.”
  • “The heart can choke the mind when all the blood flows back onto itself.”
  • “There can be no false steps now, the higher up the mountain, the more treacherous the path.”
  • “Good things happen to good people.”
  • “Avoid wars you can't win, and never raise your flag for an asinine cause like slavery.”
  • “When the money’s coming your way, you don’t ask questions.”
  • “This hurts us both. It's not my wound to suture. Claire must be the surgeon. Only she can stop the bleeding.”
  • “The road to power is paved with hypocrisy and casualties. Never regret.”
  • “It's not beginning the story I fear; it's not knowing how it will end. Everyone is fair game now.”
  • "There are two types of vice-presidents, doormats and Matadors, which one do you think I intend to be?"
  • "The only thing more satisfying than convincing someone to do what I want is failing to persuade them on purpose. It's like a do not enter sign, it just begs you to walk through the door."
  • "From the lion's den to a pack of wolves. When you're fresh meat, kill and throw them something fresher."
  • “Even Achilles was only as strong as his heel.”
  • “Every kitten grows up to be a cat. They seem so harmless at first; small, quiet, lapping up their saucer of milk. But once their claws get long enough they draw blood. Sometimes from the hand that feeds them. For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain there can be no mercy. There is but one rule. Hunt or be hunted.”

      Who knows? Maybe more content like this (from around the world) will someday help the believers, the opponents and the indifferent open their eyes just a little so that - as the classic rock song from The Who used to say - “We won’t get fooled again”.

      WATCH House of Cards (Season 1) Trailer
      Discussion Questions for Students and Teachers:

      • Do you watch or have you seen House of Cards?
      • Are there any political dramas in your country which question the current system of politics? If not, would they be allowed?
      • If more people questioned their leadership and political systems, would it change anything?
      • How is fear used as a tool by politicians?
      • Does corruption undermine democracy? Why or why not?
      • Does power corrupt? Why or why not?
      • If you were the president, what's the first thing you would do?


      Write 10 sentences about political leaders or governmental systems using some of the vocabulary from this post. CHECK your writing here: