Enoch Powell did not actually use the phrase ‘rivers of blood’ in the speech for which he became notorious – as a rudimentary scan of the original text will confirm.
However, this has not prevented it from becoming a form of shorthand for anyone wishing to flick petrol on the flames of racial intolerance.
To his eternal shame, David Starkey used it as a gratuitous and entirely unnecessary means of drawing attention to himself in a Newsnight debate on the street riots.
The point he went on to make about increasing numbers of white youngsters adopting the slang and sloppy diction of a particular form of black culture was entirely valid.
But it had absolutely nothing to do with Powell and the warnings of racial conflagration he espoused more than 40 years ago.
Quite the opposite, in fact, because a cursory examination of the television coverage showed that the yobs rampaging through our city streets were an eclectic mix of genders, ages and skin colours.
It’s depressing to think that the one thing guaranteed to bring the races together is a night of thuggery and the chance of a knocked-off lap-top.
But Starkey is right about the sullen, aggressive mode of speech favoured by many of the urban young, and their dependence on the ubiquitous ‘innit.’
I reckon Radio 4 should pioneer a new quiz show for youngsters called ‘Just a Minute, Innit’ in which there are Xboxes and trainers to be won by any kid who can talk for a minute non-stop without using the wretched word.
Intensely irritating though this affectation may be, it’s only speech and young people have been adapting the mother tongue to their own ends for generations.
As far back as the 50s, terms like ‘daddio’ and ‘cool man’ were infuriating the older generation, while young people in the 60s came up with so many new phrases they almost reinvented the language.
The rising inflection at the end of a sentence, making everything sound like a question, has been with us for 25 years (thank you Neighbours) and shows no signs of abating.
So let’s get past the verbal idiosyncrasies (vexing though they may be) and deal with the real problems.
Then we can start to put the last few distressing weeks behind us, innit?
* Where’s the harm in a real crackdown?
When David Cameron – all clenched teeth and pulsing neck veins – made his statement to the Commons about the riots, Nick Clegg did his best to look supportive.
But he was clearly discomfited by the stridency of what he was hearing, and only now is the Lib Dems’ true reaction to the urban outrage beginning to filter through.
Simon Hughes (who has turned political piety into a personal lifestyle) is muttering about first-time offenders being shown some leniency.
Lib Dem peer, Lord Macdonald, is warning against passing jail terms which ‘lack humanity or justice.’
May I suggest a simple compromise?
Why don’t we show the looters the same degree of leniency, humanity and justice they showed to their innocent victims?