A WORD IN THE HAND: Inquiry
Might I enquire about your inquiry? The stakes are high
A column to satisfy your inner grammar nerd
The commission of inquiry into state capture (officially called The Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector including Organs of State) has been top of many minds this week, particularly the minds of those who work in the building where the hearings are taking place.
I rather like the friendly welcome from sniffer dogs and their police handlers, a wellness perk we did not enjoy before Judge Zondo and his band of truth seekers moved in. Some of my colleagues have complained about having to leave a trail of breadcrumbs every time they leave the office, so that they can find their way back through the forest of camera and sound equipment that has sprung up outside our building, but I think they might be exaggerating.
Such trivial matters aside, the commission is going to dominate our thoughts and the news for some time, which is why we should clear up a pedantic point right from the start, namely why this is an inquiry and not an enquiry.The words mean pretty much the same thing, but inquiring is done with far more intent and formality than merely enquiring.When you ask someone how they are feeling, that’s an enquiry. When you appoint seven professional heavyweights and a host of support staff to conduct viral screenings of everyone that person has ever sneezed on, it becomes an inquiry.
If Judge Zondo were presiding over an enquiry, he’d simply have called up our former president and said: “Hey JZ, did you steal a bunch of money? No? Okay then, have a nice day.” And that would be that. So let us be glad this is an inquiry.
Inquiry comes from the same root as inquisition, a word made infamous by the Spanish Inquisition, which was established in 1478 and which resulted in thousands of people being unexpectedly executed during the next 350 years for not being Catholic enough.
The Spanish did not invent the inquisition, however. Inquisitors were appointed by the Christian church from as early as 382AD, their job being to ferret out infidels. The ecclesiastical court set up in around 1200 and known as the medieval inquisition established the official rules.According to many historical sources, heretics who did not confess were burnt at the stake. Those who confessed were treated more leniently – they were strangled first and then burnt.
This brutal commission of inquiry was the brainchild of Innocent III, who displayed a strong sense of self-worth and a weak grasp of irony when he chose his pope name.
I am as happy as most other South Africans that the commission happening above my head is of the inquiring type. I’m also glad the days of inquisitions are behind us. Also, the building is fitted with smoke alarms.