Drug-dealer vs NHS cancer pharmacist: where does serious end, and satire begin?

On the 18th of June, a political Twitter account tweeted the following:

Serving Labour MP Admits to Selling Drugs

(Wayback link)

 

And then there was a link, but we’ll come back to this later.

This caught my eye for a few reasons, but perhaps the most obvious is that it was so surprising, I went to fact-check it, and was gobsmacked at what it actually meant.

So what’s the problem with this tweet? Well, perhaps the most reasonable interpretation is that the person in question – this serving Labour MP – is a drug dealer, and therefore a criminal.

In fact, Taiwo Owatemi is an NHS cancer pharmacist, and on the 14th of June, the Register of Members’ Interests was updated to declare that “From 5 June 2021 until further notice” Owatemi would be a “Locum Pharmacist for Tesco, Shire Park, Kestrel Way” and that she would “work shifts on an ad hoc basis as required” (TWFY).

So did Owatemi “admit to selling drugs”?

Yes.

But also?

No.

That’s because there are at least two distinct interpretations to “admits to selling drugs” and whilst “trained and registered pharmacist legally dispensing medication” is one, another is “criminal drug-dealer selling illegal substances”. And I would argue quite strongly that the average person who reads the tweet is more likely to arrive at the latter. How do we know this? Well, we could test it on people and ask them what they thought it meant, but luckily, corpus linguistics can show us much more quickly what we tend to mean when we say things like this. Continue reading