Tuesday, 17 July 2012

A few of my least favourite things

I was listening to a policeman on Radio 4's Today programme before, talking about G4S and their completely predictable failure to provide sufficient security staff for the Olympic Games.

Every other sentence was "going forward", "working with our partners", "rolling out". As George Orwell wrote in Politics and the English Language, "political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible...Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness." Meaningless corporate speak is everywhere. I don't think it's consciously learnt or adopted, just picked up by people to fit into an organisation. I had a manager when I worked in the civil service who spoke almost entirely in this language, she was forever "touching base", "cascading information" and "flagging up". In meetings, we'd sit on the front row, notepads on our knees, listening intently. She thought we were hanging on her every word, which we were but only because of the buzzword bingo game we were playing.

The way to deal with this kind of language is to act dumb and pretend you don't understand. When the manager in the civil service once told us that she'd "touch base again next week", one of my colleagues asked her if that meant she'd be coming to see us again and, somewhat thrown, she replied, "Er, yes".

Not quite as bad as corporate speak but equally infectious it seems is what's variously called up-speak, high-rising terminal or Australian Question Intonation, that is the compulsion to go up at the end of every sentence. It doesn't obscure meaning like corporate speak does but it's quite distracting once you start noticing it. I don't know what can be done to combat it although some people suggest that you should treat every statement made in AQI as a question and answer it.

The solution to my very least favourite thing - people on the platform crowding up against the doors when you're trying to get off a train - is simple: guards armed with electric cattle prods.

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