Ħa Qalanqas... Ian Borg is moonlighting as experimental poet

The Skinny | No. 70 – Ian Borg Expands the Maltese Lexicon

What are we skinning? Minister for Transport and Capital Projects Ian Borg moonlighting as experimental poet and lexicographer of the Maltese language during an appearance on ‘current affairs’ programme Pjazza… and ‘allegedly’ blaspheming in the process.

Why are we skinning it? Mainly due to the latter accusation and the subsequent Hurricane Katrina in a te’ fit-tazza that followed… Opposition MP Jason Micallef claims Borg blasphemed on live television while Borg claims he was merely uttering a new-fangled contraction of ‘anqas’: ‘ha qalanqas’.

Great word. What could it mean? You will have to ask the minister to reveal its true roots when he’s in a more expansive mood. At the time of going to print, the official story is that it’s merely a hurried contraction of the rhythmically repeated ‘anqas’.

But there’s more to it than that, surely. Oh, no doubt. ‘Ha Qalanqas’ could be an Infrastructure Malta code-word, for one thing.

A Trumpian ‘stand back and stand by, chop some more trees’, kind of thing? Yes. Flyover-constructing dog-whistles.

If this past year – and the early days of its successor – has shown us anything, it’s that we should not be surprised at any kind of government wrangling. Yes, but beyond the silly conspiracy theories, fun as they are, I think there’s something else we can glean from this cute linguistic-and-bon ton incident.

And what is that? It has to do with how we expect our public figures to behave, and the kind of roles a lot of them have solidified for themselves already. Look at the incident over Mark Camilleri’s ‘brown Marxist ass’ – to say nothing of Borg’s own previous assertion that he “does not orgasm” over parliamentary questions raised by, once again, Jason Azzopardi, which caused something of a small ruckus already back in 2015.

So this is really a long-standing linguistic feud. Yes. Their responses are also quite telling.

How so? By amplifying the ‘ha qalanqas’ incident to something that appears to be worthy of being considered as a national crisis, Azzopardi stays on-brand as a melodramatic diva whose attempts at undermining political opponents sometimes border on the ridiculous. This then allows Borg to both deny the initial charge – and create a brand new word in the process – while basking in his ‘down to earth’ image as the ‘getting things done’ minister unfettered by rules of decency.

It’s the Nationalist vs Labourite rivalry in a nutshell. Indeed. The PN make appeals to standards of decency and proper behaviour, while Labour try to appeal to historic ‘socialist’ roots by speaking ‘the language of the people’. In truth, both are subservient to the business class, as is evidence by Ian Borg’s handling of infrastructure and capital projects, and the PN failing to act as an adequate opposition on such – literally – concrete issues, instead wasting time with petty semantic squabbles over – ha qalanqas – random utterances on live television.

Do say:  While we should demand the best possible mode of expression from our elected officials, the ‘ha qalanqas’ incident illustrates both the grasping – and borderline desperate – attempts of the opposition to undermine the government on minor issues while ignoring the big picture. But neither does it paint too flattering a picture of Ian Borg, whose generally brazen attitude leaves him vulnerable to gaffes of this kind.

Don’t say: “Languages need to adapt to survive, so you could say that Ian Borg’s experimental linguistic jamming has already done more for the Maltese language than the Akkademja tal-Malti can hope to do in an entire lifetime.”