Grandma's Tales

March 12, 2007

Grammar – 30 What’s wrong with simple language? 3

Filed under: Language — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 10:10 pm

Dan Watson, an Australian author is fed up with “managerial jargon“. “It’s time to protest the mind-numbing business jargon that infests our schools, churches and political speech,” he said. Launching a crusade against this “public language”, he began to give speeches, during which, he would simply read to his audiences corporate-speak from company manuals and school brochures. And watch them double up with laughter.
Two years ago, he decided to collect his opinions of corporate lingo into a book. After all, he had enough examples to make a case against it. He called the book, Watson’s Dictionary of Weasel Words, Contemporary Clichés, Cant & Management Jargon. It was an instant best-seller and brought a flood of fan mail from “frustrated language lovers”.
Why weasel words? “In 1916 Theodore Roosevelt declared that the ‘tendency to use what have been called weasel words was “one of the defects of our nation”‘. ‘You can have universal training or you can have voluntary training, but when you use the word “voluntary” to qualify the word “universal”, you are using a weasel word,’ he said: ‘it has sucked all the meaning out of “universal”.’ Watson thought this word described corporate mumbo-jumbo best. Here are some of the examples he cited to add weight to his protest.
Licensing this protocol provides our customers with a seamless solution for integrating our mobile devices into their back-end.(Ha, ha, ha!) – announcement by Nokia.
workplace refreshment solutions” (water-cooler company brochure)
information needs identifiers” (librarians – from a school prospectus)
unexpected non-powered tractor movement may occur.” (John Deere tractor safety notice that advises customers to lock the brake)
OB [obstetrics] product” (a new-born baby)
excellence in hospitality” (charity)
Just as the skill and processes are not compartmentalized in the creation process, the evaluation of outcomes will occur against a background of understanding that separation of outcomes into discrete components is subordinate to the evaluation of the total process as a comprehensive outcome. – High School evaluation.
In an interview to Newsweek, Watson explained why these phrases and words were unacceptable to him. Some Qs and As.
[1] What are the “weasel words” you dislike the most?
“Implemented”. In this language, you “implement” rather than speak or do. Then there is “enhanced”. Everything is being enhanced. That word is being used in place of other more precise and descriptive words. You can enhance your marriage or your job. You can even implement your enhancements. And “input” is another good one. Companies talk about “input into our people.”
[2] How has business-speak changed society?
We are all customers. Even the CIA talks about having internal clients. I’m quite sure that in another iteration, the Army will talk about enemy clients. Once they decide we’re all customers then the consequences for basic relationships in civil society are not good. I think the old civilities will do, and I don’t know why we all have to be customers, let alone valued customers.
[3] How has this language spread to our private lives?
I think it happened when we decided to a greater or lesser extent that we live in an economy, not a society. It’s become badge of honor for people in their professional lives so they’ll bring it home with them. Soon they’ll be saying: “We’re going to watch ‘The Wizard of Oz’ together in a family scenario.” [It happens] because language is so addictive and we use it as we hear it.
Watson worries these empty catchphrases are already affecting democracy everywhere.


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