Get unlimited digital access. Try it today for only $0.99.

Mark Sanford

What 'Let's be clear' really means

What 'Let's be clear' really means

British politicians love the word "clearly." Whenever one of them begins a sentence with "clearly," what follows is almost certainly the most debatable and non-obvious point of his or her argument. "Clearly, the Cameron government have made tremendous progress on health and education." Used in this way, the adverb "clearly" is what modern grammarians call a "sentence adverb." Rather than modifying a specific verb, it modifies the entire sentence: The truth of this proposition, it says, should be clear to any rational person. Only it isn't.

Americans use "clearly" in this way too, but we prefer the hortatory imperative:...