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Potemkin doesn't live in this village

Lawyers for the governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, have announced that they will not defend him in his impeachment trial in the state Senate because the proceedings there are fundamentally unfair to their client. Their statement included this sentence:

"We cannot and will not degrade our client, ourselves, our oaths and our profession, as well as the office of the governor, by participating in a Potemkin-like lynching proceeding, thus making it appear that the governor is represented by competent counsel when in fact he is not."

Potemkin-like lynching is, of course, the interesting construction.

When Catherine the Great, empress of Russia, toured Ukraine and the Crimea in the late 18th century, Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin, one of a number of her favorites, is said to have constructed mock villages — essentially theatrical sets — to impress the empress with the prosperity and good order of her realm. This has given rise to the term Potemkin village, meaning a façade or stage set — a fraud — constructed to conceal an embarrassing or unpleasant reality.

One is left a little puzzled at the lawyers’ intending meaning, since lynching is precisely the sort of ugly fact that a Potemkin construction would be erected to conceal. A “Potemkin-like lynching” would be not a real lynching but a cosmetically enhanced mock lynching?

Perhaps Messrs. Sam and Sam Adam Jr. would have been better advised to focus on jurisprudence and avoid literary-historical flourishes.



Posted by John McIntyre at 2:40 PM | | Comments (3)


I wonder if they are confusing the 18th-century Potemkin villages with their 20th-century Soviet descendent, the show trial?

I suspect they were confused with Kafkaesque. Not that the analogy is technically accurate but at least the literary reference would be.

Maybe the lawyers are talking about the battleship, not the village, or at least the film about the battleship, which involves a mutiny and threatened hangings.

It's still a stretch.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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