There’s been a lot of discussion of the BBC’s policy on the use of the t-word. But that’s not the only tendentious word around. I was reading this article earlier today and I noticed another one.

Around this time, he was sent to Pakistan to visit relatives. He also went on the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, grew a beard and began to wear robes. Despite becoming devoutly religious, he was arrested for shoplifting during 2004.

Can you tell what word I have in mind? I bet you can. I saw it in other articles too – it’s quite popular. ‘Devout.’

Devout. Hmm. That is one word for it, of course, but others come to mind. ‘Devout’ is not a neutral word – it’s a hooray word. It’s one of those words like ‘faith’ and ‘spiritual’ that are meant to convey, ever so subtly and covertly, that being religious is a good and virtuous thing – all by itself, not because of any further transformation in behaviour. Well, is it? No, not necessarily. It seems safe to say, not in this case! So why use words that imply that it is? Granted, I can’t think of any neutral equivalent for the word ‘devout’ – but then why do we need one? It’s a tautology anyway – religiously religious. It functions as an intensifier, but an intensifier with a lot of baggage. Why not just say ‘intensely religious’ or ‘very religious’? No reason, that I can see, other than to show a kind of reflexive ‘respect’ for religion – which is pretty stupid, in this context, frankly. Yeah, he became devoutly religious, and that’s why he blew up fourteen people. Fourteen people, including Gladys Wundowa, who had finished her shift as a cleaner at UCL and was on her way to a college course in Shoreditch – that’s ‘devoutly religious’ for you.

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