In an item on the BBC News website on 28 July – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23485610 – it is reported that the UK Director of Public Prosecutions stated in June 2013 that there should be a “high threshold for prosecution in cases involving communications which may be considered grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false”.
I was immediately intrigued, because – while I had always understood a threshold to be something designed to keep something else out, like keeping water out of a house during a flood – the wording of the quote implied that a crime had be really, really serious before any action would be taken.
According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, a threshold is “the level at which one starts to feel or react to something”. If you want to stop something from getting worse, surely the threshold – i.e. the point at which you start taking action – should be low, not high. If you wait until a high threshold has been overcome, you should have done something earlier. So of course, I thought, the DPP must have in fact said “a low threshold”.
But when I checked the original statement (at http://www.cps.gov.uk/news/latest_news/dpp_publishes_final_guidelines_for_prosecutions_involving_social_media_communications/index.html), sure enough it talks about a high threshold.
I’m not getting into legalities here, merely the rights and wrongs of the language. I know what they mean, of course – the standards of the law should be kept high. But what they said means the opposite. Doesn’t it?