Empty chairing

On the radio the other day they were discussing the possibility of staging televised debates for British politicians similar to the ones that happen during presidential elections in the USA. One commentator thought it was unlikely that the British Prime Minister would be willing to take part in such debates and that if he didn’t, the BBC might “empty chair” him.

According to The Guardian, empty chairing is “the practice of drawing attention to politicians’ refusal to show up. The aim is clear: to embarrass ministers for ducking tough questions.” While according to The Economist, empty chairing involves using an empty studio chair to symbolically represent someone who has refused to appear on a TV programme.

This seems to be similar to the practice of mentioning that somebody was “unavailable for comment” or “refused to comment” on a big news story.

Have you heard the term empty chairing used? Are there equivalents in other languages?

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This entry was posted in English, Language, Words and phrases.

3 Responses to Empty chairing

  1. jdotjdot89 says:

    I have not heard the term used before, but I suspect it’s only because that particular situation has not ever come up for me before. I think it’s a brilliant term and I intend to use it from now on.

  2. Peter J. Franke says:

    In Surinam Dutch there is an expression: “zeven even” (just seven). It is not the same as empty chairing but it is about the habit of quite a number of employees at governament offices to show up at seven AM (the time the job starts) for about 15 minutes and then disappear to pay attention to an alternative job, like cab driving etc., during the rest of the day….

  3. Tommy says:

    I like words/phrases like “to empty chair” or “empty-chairing” which involve applying an image of a physical object to some abstract or complex thought or process. It’s not completely related, but it reminds me of the “Wind Talkers”, the Navajo and other Native Americans who had to “build” military vocabulary like “submarine” from their own words, like “iron fish”. For some reason, I like “iron fish” better than the direct submarine/sous-marin/Unterseeboot/潜水艦…