Nonsense as fact as modus operandi:
the use and abuse of Latin in the Petrochemical industry
Petrochemical CEO Jim Ratcliffe claims that his company name, INEOS, is informed by Greek and Latin roots. No doubt he learned these languages to some level at Beverley Grammar School, and presumably he imagines his etymological pronouncements will somehow grace the enterprise of destroying the planet with some semblance of respectability — but not only are his claims spectacularly, embarrassingly wrong; they are symptomatic of the sinister culture Ratcliffe lives in: a culture indifferent to truth, reliant on a credulous public, and accustomed to spreading misinformation, presenting as fact what is actually nonsense. It is a culture that doesn’t care if it’s wrong, and that believes it can fool you.
Let’s consider first just how bogus Ratcliffe’s claims about Greek and Latin are. Ineos’ marketing spiel asserts the following:
“Ineo” is Latin for a new beginning, “Eos” is the Greek goddess of dawn and “neos” means something new and innovative.
At first glance, some of this looks true, but a closer look reveals the perfect concoction for a credible lie: fact and fiction, equally mixed. I teach Greek and Latin every day, and will explain word by word.
- Ineo does not mean “new beginning” at all, but rather “I enter”.
- Neos certainly can mean “new” — though in Greek, not Latin — but the ancient Greeks were not generally optimistic about the future, and of events, neos often has very inauspicious connotations, such as
- bad news (as used by Aeschylus)
- plotting (as in Sophocles)
- as a euphemism for death (as in Euripides).
- Eos does indeed mean dawn in Greek, but preceded by the Latin word “in”, it is rendered meaningless: even if in were its Greek equivalent en, Eos would need a different word ending.
Little does Ratcliffe know that in fact the only intelligible meaning of his company name in either classical language suggests hostility. IN EOS is Latin for “against them”. (Prosecution speeches in Rome are titled thus, e.g. In Catilinam, a speech against Catiline. Eos is simply a pronoun meaning them.)
Rather than ridicule Ratcliffe further for these errors, let’s consider why a man who is neither a Latinist nor a Hellenist would casually present himself as informed about both. As with the Orwellian bullet points his industry parrots — “INEOS products make a significant contribution to saving life!” — Ratcliffe’s etymology lesson is selective with facts, cares nothing for verification, and suppresses awareness of experts. If it crosses his mind that people exist who have studied Greek and Latin, then he must assume the influence of such quaint, bookish types as myself will be minimal enough for him to just make it up as he goes along. This, after all, is simply what you do when experts tell you that burning fossil-fuels will destroy the world, but choose not to care.
Sadly, the public are being misinformed about matters much more serious than esoterica about dead languages, and INEOS is determined to silence those few who understand the dangers of their furtive operations. As the latest misdeed in its short but shocking corporate history, INEOS is attempting legal action to criminalise peaceful protest about its most ruinous endeavour, fracking — a new way of burning fossil fuels, being developed just when we need to switch to green energy more urgently than ever. Their injunction is being contested, and with luck, High Court judges will see through INEOS’ juridical gimmickry and flimsy pretexts. The impact of protest, shareable via social media, has potential to raise awareness of this matter of public (indeed, global) interest. This, of course, is what INEOS fear the most. They must not be allowed to deny the public a right to be educated, aware and informed about their dubious schemes — despite their efforts to make sure we are quite the opposite.
Peter Olive teaches Greek at University College London, and Latin at Royal Holloway, University of London.