Things of Latvia: "Tehnisku iemeslu dēļ"

If you happened to notice there was no ''Thing of Latvia'' last week, and you were in the mood to guess why, it would be reasonable to speculate that we at LSM were ill, lazy, drunk or out of ideas. Such surmises might be correct in one, several or all respects. However, we could quite easily maintain our dignity and reputation by answering that there was no ''Thing of Latvia'' last week tehnisku iemeslu dēļ or due to technical reasons.

This, we are confident, will satisfy you - at least if you are Latvian.

Tehnisku iemeslu dēļ - three little words that like "I love you" mean so much more than you can easily explain. This may be the most powerful combination of words in the Latvian language, so it bears some analysis.

A train may be cancelled tehnisku iemeslu dēļ, a shop may be unexpectedly closed tehnisku iemeslu dēļ, a vending machine may not work tehnisku iemeslu dēļ, your cellphone may only make calls to Botswana tehnisku iemeslu dēļ, a speaker didn't show up at your conference tehnisku iemeslu dēļ, your wedding is off tehnisku iemeslu dēļ. The list is endless.

And yet on closer inspection we see that only one of these words is really important: tehnisku or technical. If we remove it from the statement we see that the train was cancelled "for a reason", the speaker didn't show up "for a reason". Any action happens or does not happen for a reason, so this is perfectly obvious and you might assume didn't need to be announced, emailed, broadcast or, more often, written in very bad handwriting on a sheet of A4 paper and stuck with Scotch tape on the train, shop or vending machine in question.

But the addition of tehnisku changes everything. Tehnisku, at a single stroke, adds specificity, an excuse, an alibi and an explanation - or at least it gives the illusion of doing so.

If the train was cancelled for technical reasons it must have been something to do with the workings of diesel engines or signalling systems. If the vending machine doesn't work for technical reasons, probably that pleasant guy with the toolbag who fixes such machines has been called to rewire it. If LSM didn't produce a "Thing of Latvia" due to technical reasons, we must have been undergoing a major cyber-attack that messed with our databases.

Technical reasons are beyond the comprehension of the average member of the public and would take an awful lot of time to explain. They are, after all, technical. So you'll just have to trust us on this one. Plus, if we get too specific about the reasons we didn't arrive/work/write/marry you it might prompt a lot of awkward and hard-to-answer questions. Let's just agree that the reasons are technical and therefore justified and leave it at that.

Here too, we see the difference to the English language's "due to unforeseen circumstances". "Unforeseen" implies a failure, a derogation of duty. If only people had thought a bit harder they would have foreseen the circumstances and planned accordingly. "Unforeseen circumstances" is an open invitation to criticize. "Technical reasons" on the other hand are both irresistible and vague and consequently beyond blame.

The amazing thing is that this tiny fig leaf of implied expertise and competence actually works. The technical reason the train didn't arrive was probably that the driver had gone on a bender the night before. The technical reason we didn't write anything was that we were distracted by the election and just forgot to do it. The technical reason the shop is not open is that no-one can find the door key. The technical reason we didn't marry you was that we decided we don't actually like you very much.

If the Russian secret services had really wanted to mess with Latvia's recent elections, all they needed to do was produce a few badly-written hand-made signs on A4 pieces of paper saying "Cancelled due to technical reasons" and stick them on the doors of polling stations. People would have shown up, read the signs and walked away shaking their heads and muttering about how this was just typical.

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