Cover up

To “cover something up” is to hide the truth about something unethical or illegal.

Today's story: Belarus hijacking
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Cover up

It’s time for today’s expression. We’re going to talk about the phrasal verb “cover up.” To cover something up is to hide the truth about something unethical or illegal. There are several ways to cover something up. You could hide the evidence; you could force others to lie; you could distract the world from your unethical deeds; you could fabricate evidence that hides what you did wrong.

In today’s lesson, you heard that Belarus’s government hijacked a commercial airliner passing through its airspace. The country’s objective was to arrest a journalist on board. This was a serious breach of international norms and probably a UN convention. Belarus tried to cover this up by saying they had gotten a bomb threat and were searching for explosives. They called the journalist Roman Protasevich a terrorist and arrested him; it’s what they always wanted to do. There was never a bomb; there was never a bomb threat. That was all an attempt to cover up the arrest of a journalist. Belarus may have attempted to conceal its true motives or to hide its illegal behavior, but nobody was fooled.

This is an example where someone tried to cover up a crime by creating a distraction. In many cases, though, a person covers up a crime by tampering with evidence or convincing someone to lie. In the English county of Merseyside, two police officers are accused of covering up a crime by another officer. According to the charges, one police officer illegally assaulted a citizen. That was the original crime. Two other police officers tried to cover it up; they lied about the incident. One said that his body camera was not working, when it actually was working. The other two officers were covering up the crime of their fellow officer by lying about the incident and about their body cameras.

In the United States, a man was driving on the road and hit a teenage girl, killing her. Witnesses say they saw a car damaged, as if by a crash. But the owner of the car quickly cleaned it and made some repairs so that police wouldn’t suspect he was the hit-and-run driver. He tried to cover up the crime. But a deeper analysis of the car showed that the damage was consistent with a hit-and-run accident and the man was arrested.

One of the most famous crimes—perhaps the most famous crime—in American history involves the president covering up an illegal act. This is a long story, but I’ll give you the short version. In spring of 1972, people connected to the President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign broke into the offices of the opposition party and wiretapped phones—an illegal act. The President, though, spent months trying to cover up his campaign’s involvement in the break-in. He used his power to hamper the investigation, he lied about his campaign’s knowledge of the break-in, and he released audio tapes of his conversations with a famous eighteen-and-a-half-minute gap in the recording.

Nixon was later forced to resign, the only president in our history to have resigned. The ironic thing is that prosecutors in the case were convinced that the president himself wasn’t guilty at the beginning; theories abound, but even many of his opponents say Nixon didn’t even know about the break-in beforehand. It was only after he tried to cover up the crime that he got in trouble.

Quote of the Week

Today’s quote is extremely famous in English. It’s sadly appropriate for today’s lesson. It’s by a British politician, Lord Acton. He said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The quote is often shortened to say, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In this case, “absolute power” means total power—or someone who has total control over a country or organization. And if absolute, or total power, corrupts absolutely, it means that person grows to be completely corrupt as he gains more power. And that seems to indeed have been the case with the Belarusian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko.

See you next time!

And that’s all for today. Congratulations on making it to the end of yet another lesson. Remember, there’s always more online.

Plain English Plus+ members can listen to the fast version of this lesson, test their listening skills, practice their pronunciation, and take the lesson quiz. We also have a how-to video today about how to use the word “nor.” I bet some of you have seen that word and you don’t quite know how to use it; well, that’s what our how-to videos are for. I take you through exactly how to use “nor” in a sentence and I give you the opportunity to practice right along with me. That’s all at PlainEnglish.com/372, and if you’re not yet a Plain English Plus+ member, you can join at PlainEnglish.com/Plus.

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Story: Belarus hijacking