Category Archives: Language
Yuck. Yuck. And thrice yuck!
Business speak, sometimes called management speak. It’s got so ridiculous now that it doesn’t just obscure, it’s incomprehensible. Even to those who use it. But in true ‘Emperors New Clothes’ style, they can hardly open their mouths to say so can they? Poor lambs.
There are loads of great websites on the subject. I’ll give the links at the end. For now I’ll just expose some that drive me up the wall (only a few or I’d be writing for the rest of the year). And mention others that are new to me and that take my breath away. The only possible advantage to these expressions is that they give me, and people like me, plenty of material for our posts and rants.
Let’s start with the headline above ….
Bring to the party – so it’s a party now is it?
Open the kimono – a new one to me. Absolutely creepy, not to say pornographic. I think it ‘s supposed to mean show or reveal. So why not say so.
Low hanging fruit – quick win. Easy pickings?
Going forward – I absolutely hate this. I shout at the radio every single time I hear it. Of course you are going forward, unless you’ll admit to going sideways or backwards and no one in business will ever admit to that.
Drill down – You’re planting seeds are you? Or maybe you are doing some DIY. In any case you’re hardly going to be drilling up! What’s wrong with ‘explore’ or ‘analyse’.
Deliver – please not, unless you are the Royal Mail or UPS. Complete, fulfill, do? As to deliverables – don’t get me started.
Wrongside the demographic – yet another one I haven’t come across before. I know what ‘demographic’ means. I know what ‘wrong’ means and ‘side’. Put them all together and I may as well be talking to a Martian.
In this space – well, speaking of Martians, where did you think we were? Mars, Jupiter – most likely up Uranus.
Stakeholders – I can’t help but visualise vampires whenever I hear this expression.
Sunset – a new one on me. It means to cancel or kill a project. Apparently. Oh my sainted aunt. To make it even worse, it’s turned yet another innocent noun into a verb. Top marks for euphemism though!
Forward planning – er, planning? You don’t plan backwards. Well I don’t, anyway.
Best of Breed Cloud Burst – I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about and I doubt you do either.
There are many others who, like me, are driven nuts by management and business speak. I am indebted to them for discovering some of the expressions above, others are my own pet hates. Here are some links:-
I love the English language, but some words really irritate me. One in particular has been prominent lately; it’s been on every newsreader’s lips, constantly, driving me nuts. It’s not a word that bothers most people, judging by the amount of times you hear it. However, having written that sentence I suddenly realised that I never hear ordinary people use it. By that I mean that you don’t hear it when real people are talking to each other.
A little reflection and I realised why. It’s because it’s ‘official speak’. And that’s the clue. That’s why I hate it so much. (When I used the word ‘irritate’ I was lying. It doesn’t irritate me; it infuriates me.) I have to confess that I haven’t noticed it used in print, but it probably is. Newspapers are as guilty of ‘official speak’ as the rest of the media, but probably not so much.
So what is this word that drives me so crazy? It’s the word – or in my vocabulary the non-word – ‘wrongdoing’. Where did it come from? Who first started using it? What in the name of all that’s holy is wrong with saying ‘crime’ or ‘doing wrong’? I think I know. In order not to say ‘wrongdoing’ you have to use a few more words, which might throw out the carefully controlled TV and radio schedules by a few nano seconds and get the newsreaders colliding with the continuity announcers and bumping uncomfortably against the poor weather people, who, goodness knows, are squeezed enough.
What would I say instead of ‘wrongdoing’ – always assuming I was a newsreader? What I would say is ‘he claimed he was not guilty of any crime.’ ‘She says she has done nothing wrong.’ ‘He denies he has done anything wrong’. In fact, these phrases don’t actually use up any more words than saying ‘He says he was not guilty of any wrongdoing.’ In fact, in some instances, fewer words are used, so there’s no excuse. It’s simply lazy. One journalist says ‘wrongdoing’ and everyone else says ‘wrongdoing’. It’s all part of the parrot syndrome. Maybe I’m being be unfair to single out newsreaders and journalists since it’s the politicians who are the worst offenders. All the same, I don’t expect much of politicians but I do think we should be able to look to journalists to respect this great language of ours and stop behaving like sheep.
Some thoughts on the lack of clarity and logic in manufacturers instructions. Or, to put it another way, a great big fat rant!
A couple of weeks ago my printer got sick. It developed a strange disease that caused it to believe it was a rainbow. Of course a colour printer should make rainbows, but only when asked. My poor machine had what appeared to be a severe identity crisis. What should have been mono print came out green or green and yellow. And then it would change its mind and print exclusively in pink. Attempts to rectify it sent it into further vibrant hysterics. Although there were diagnostic thingies to help, in most cases I find them virtually useless. The reason? Language. And logic.
Way back, when I was training to be a social worker, I signed on for an optional course called ‘The Use of English’. Some of my friends thought it irrelevant – what had use of English to do with being a social worker? The answer is ‘everything’. It’s all to do with clarity. It’s not only writers who need to make their meaning clear. For them it’s a matter of reputation and personal pride. But in other professions it can be a matter of life or death – literally. Think doctor. Think air traffic controller. Think engineer.
While computer and printer technology may not be a matter of life and death, lack of clear instructions can lead to hours of wasted time, great frustration and dent any good will felt towards the manufacturer of the equipment. While perhaps unquantifiable, this is nevertheless undeniable. Just take a look at some of the reviews next time you are buying a piece of technology.
Perhaps the most valuable lesson I learnt from that ‘Use of English’ class was this. If a piece of writing doesn’t make sense, don’t immediately assume it’s because you are not clever enough to understand it. Think instead – is it me, or is it badly written? You will find that in many cases it’s the latter. The meaning hasn’t been made clear in the writing. Punctuation plays a large part here. The placing of a comma, for instance, can alter the entire meaning of a sentence.
To get back to the matter of technical instructions. Language is critical, but so is logic. In my experience, people who know a subject really well make an entirely unconscious assumption that everyone else does too. When I started to read ‘A Brief History of Time’ I was delighted that I appeared to understand it. At first. I can’t remember where I got lost but it was quite early on. Later I worked out the reason. It began well enough. A to B, B to C, C to D. Then suddenly we had jumped to J, K, L and another leap to Q and so on. The bits just didn’t link up; I couldn’t follow. As I result I gave up on a book that I had really wanted to read.
I gave up on my poor printer too. My attempts to recalibrate it were frustrated by the incomprehensible instructions. The words bore no relation to the images in front of me. The instructions for my new printer were not bad, but still left a great deal to be desired. If there is a choice between using the printer to set up or using the computer, why not say so? If you want me to return to a section later – and presumably it’s important as you are asking me to do it – why don’t you tell me how to get back to that page?
Since beginning this post I have spent a frustrating half hour trying to set up the ePrint function on the new printer. (Why I’m not sure because I doubt that I will ever need it.) It asked for my password. I entered it. It told me the password is wrong – or at least up popped a little cross, in red in case I am too dim to know what a cross means. After several futile attempts I wondered if perhaps I didn’t have an account after all (although in fact I do). So I tried to create a new account. Only to be told that my email address is already registered. So I attempted to change the password. Simple, you’d think. Not. I was directed to a completely different site, a commercial site that prints photographs. I do not want to use a commercial site that prints photographs. I have just bought a printer that does just that. Doh!
I’ve given up for now. Maybe for good. There’s no phone number so I can ask a helpful person for the information that should have been there from the start. Which account are you talking about? Do you mean the same one I always use for Hewlett Packard’s products? (There! I’ve said it.) If not that account, why don’t you tell me which one you are talking about? Why am I obliged to sign in to a totally random account that I don’t want in order to get a password for an account that I do want? Or might conceivably want in the future? Can you please direct me to your communications department? I would willingly accept the task of writing logical, fool proof instructions in clear English for you. Please ask them to get in touch. You can contact me via the contact page on my website. You won’t need a password.
I sometimes think we must be turning into a nation of parrots. No sooner does someone use a new piece of jargon than everyone else starts to use it too. We’ve become lazy, blindly following others like a load of fuzzy-brains trailing after a not-very-literate pied piper. Or maybe we think that if a politician or a ‘celeb’ uses an expression it makes us look good if we use it to.
In earlier posts I have berated the BBC in particular for perpetrating this laziness. And there’s no doubt that their continuity announcers, presenters and newsreaders are among the worst offenders. However, it’s hard to see which came first, the politician who says ‘going forward’, the journalist who persists in repeating it or the public who parrot it. I guess everyone’s to blame. It’s as if once someone has used a particular phrase everyone else gets collective amnesia and seems incapable of remembering that there are other ways of saying the same thing.
Below I’ve listed a few of my pet hates. Just a few, I’m sparing you. They won’t be everyone’s pet hates, but they have me screaming at the radio and, on occasion, throwing things. I no longer have a cat to frighten in this way, which is a good thing, but even so I often wonder if my neighbour can hear me through the wall.
At a young age. Why? What in the name of all that’s holy is wrong with ‘when I was young?’ Or ‘We should learn that when young’, not ‘at a young age’. I don’t know when this one crept in but it’s driving me insane.
Wrong doing. This so unnecessary. Why can’t they say ‘accused of a crime’ or ‘not guilty of any crime’ or ‘not guilty of doing anything wrong’ or simply ‘not guilty’? It doesn’t take much longer to say.
Loved ones. Here’s another one that sets my teeth on edge. Like the others it’s a sort of unthinking shorthand. What’s wrong with ‘family’ or if it’s a wider group ‘family and friends’, ‘friend’s and colleagues’ and other such permutations? I mean ‘loved ones’ isn’t necessarily accurate, if that is what you were aiming for, which I doubt. After all you don’t necessarily love your family.
Going forward. Oh spare us! What does it mean? What’s wrong with ‘in future’, or ‘next time’ or some other precise expression? Listen carefully next time you hear someone say it (you won’t have long to wait). You’ll discover that, in most instances, it means absolutely nothing. It’s like a verbal twitch.
Ahead of. There is some excuse for this one. Sometimes. But it’s not to be used in parrot fashion. For instance, if the future event is to take place very soon after the event that it is ‘ahead of’, then it makes sense. If the event is some way in the future, then why not use the good old word ‘before’?
Hard working families. Another weaselly bit of political speak. How do they know these families are hard working? Is this an aspiration or a fact? Are they implying that only hard working families deserve whatever hollow carrot is being dangled before them? What about those of us who aren’t in families? The single people? The divorced? The widowed? For my part I find this expression insulting in the extreme. And lazy. And unthinking. And well, just what I’d expect from a politician.
The main bulletin is over. Hugh or Emily or Peter or whoever’s go it is, smiles, shuffles papers a bit and announces brightly, ‘And now for the news where you are.’ Of course, the news in Birmingham won’t be the same as the news in London, which will be different from the day’s events in Swalesdale, which won’t be the same as those in St Ives. Why not? Because it’s local news. There you see – there’s already a perfectly good, serviceable word, which describes the situation perfectly. So come on guys – how about using it.
The habit of personalising everything is not restricted to newsreaders. The weather boys and girls, bless their spits and spots, have got into the same annoying habit of telling us about the weather ‘where you are.’ Oh really! It’s raining in my sitting room is it? And is that a patch of low cloud shrouding the lower deck of the bus? And yes, I did notice a distinct drop in temperature in Tesco. Though of course that could have been because I was standing right next to the freezers.
The prime example of this obsession with the possessive pronoun is M & S. Am I the only person who finds the expression ‘Your M&S’ not only irritating but more than a little smug. They are a bit holier than thou, with all this sustainable this and additive free that. I might have had more respect for them if they had a sense of humour. Alas, that was sadly lacking back in April when Ann Summers, the equally iconic sex shop parodied the Meal Deal offer and just about everything else. And cheekily transformed the famous slogan into ‘Your S & M’ with the strapline – ‘It’s not just sex, it’s Ann Summers sex.’ But instead of seeing the funny side, poor old Marks and Sparks got its knickers in a twist. Ann Summers got a right old slap on the wrist. Though a slap on the bottom might have been more appropriate. The ads never ran.
I blame the Beeb. And yes, there are worse offenders – Sky News, ITV, Four, Five, politicians, bureaucrats, executives, business schools, Uncle Tom Cobley and all. But, Oh Auntie! It really is up to you to set an example. No one expects you to keep wearing the twinset, pearls and horsey headscarf. Something classic and tasteful from M&S or John Lewis would be perfectly acceptable, linguistically speaking. Or even a mini skirt or skinny jeans from Top Shop for Radio 1 listeners – but a shell suit and faux Burberry and all that bling! It’s just not on.
New expressions and new influences keep the language alive. Shakespeare misused grammar to great effect and some current expressions add wonderfully to its richness. But that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is laziness, sloppiness and the need to rush through everything at the behest of the programme schedulers – the modern equivalent of the hounds of hell. The broadcast media is always in such a hurry, trying to fit too much into too short a time. You only need to listen to the poor breathless weather people – trying to cram their spits and spots into the 15 seconds allotted to them. Hence the fashion for turning verbs and adjectives into nouns and vice versa. You do not ‘task’ someone to do something. ‘Task’ is noun, not a verb. And ‘conference’ is a noun, not please, oh please not a verb as in ‘lets conference.’ Add all this to the herd mentality and you end up with the sort of language that has me thinking fondly of the National Rifle Association.
Misuse of language is like a rash – it spreads. It only takes one politician to say ‘going forward’ and next thing you have is an epidemic. Before you know it expressions such as ‘in the future’, ‘looking ahead’ and even ‘from now on’ have become like Monty Python’s parrot – deceased, they are no more. ‘Going forward’ isn’t the only example, indeed there are so many that I could fill in a thousand posts, and given time, I probably will.
When did you last hear a newsreader, politician or businessman say that something was going to happen ‘before’ the meeting, the summit, the statement? Bet you can’t remember. ‘Before’ has vanished into outer darkness. Nowadays it’s all ‘ahead of this’ and ‘ahead of that’. Happily, I’m not alone. Lucy Kellaway has written a great article on the subject And there’s a bunch of people so annoyed at the way the expression has crept into business in general and their organisation in particular that they tracked its use in their meetings.
Not everyone cares about the way language is used. And of course, expressions that drive me nuts don’t bother others and vice versa. Nor am I suggesting that we follow rules blindly. I’m all for embracing new words, new forms and new uses. Provided they make sense. Provided you know what you’re doing. As long as there’s a positive result – more clarity, more nuances, more invention. What I can’t stand is sloppiness and the herd mentality. We are not sheep though I’m of the opinion that some among us are not as intelligent. Sloppy language leads to sloppy thought. And sloppy thought leads to all sorts of bad things. So if we can’t look to Auntie Beeb to set an example, then we might as well pack up our bags, put out the lights and learn to speak Esperanto.
Last time I heard some interviewee say ‘different than’ I threw the radio across the room,narrowly missing the cat. So for the sake of the cat’s physical health, not to say her sanity, I am reduced to screeching ‘different from’ at the top of my voice. Which does nothing for my throat. This is England for goodness sake. ‘Different than’ is an Americanism. It has no place here.
I’m happy to see that that excellent blogger ‘Pain in the English’ has posted on the subject. Of course, as he says, there are grey areas and differences of opinion. But, when used as a comparison, the expression is ‘different from’ or even on occasion ‘different to’ but not ‘different than.’ It’s just not right.
I know there are a few, very rare and vey specialised, instances where the ‘from’ might just be permissible, but what irritates me is that 99.9% if the people using the expression have absolutely no knowledge of the rules that might allow this. They are just following the herd – or even the ‘heard’ for it’s more than likely they have picked up the expression on the radio or TV. For more fascinating discussions on this and other facets of the English language, have a look at Pain in the English.
This is one of my very favourite commercials – and a great advocate for clear communication.
When the Cute Hoor party finally drives you to drink, there are plenty of ways to describe the state you’re in. It’s hardly surprising that a country renowned for its great drinkers as well as for the richness of its language should have a wealth of expressions for drinking and being drunk.
Mangled, rat-arsed, cabbaged, hammered, ruined, scorched or trolleyed – and the rest. The list is pretty long. Different counties have their own expressions. In Waterford, where I was born, you’re in the horrors, in Kerry you’re flaming, in Donegal steaming and in Limerick, you’re said to be out of your tree. There are, of course, degrees of drunkenness with corresponding attitudes to match. Someone who’s rubbered or flutered may be quite a jolly drunk although talking utter shite. If you’re slaughtered you’ll be pretty much in bits, but still more or less coherent. On the other hand, if you’re ossified you’re likely to pick a fight. Twisted is when you’re off your head and need help getting home. Poteen, home made potato spirit, will make you first polluted, then petrified and finally paralytic.
Many of these expressions have crept, or maybe I should say staggered, into everyday use in England and America. Others are still found mostly among the Irish. Locked is one of my favourites. Stocious is another great word, which I heard a lot when I was a kid though I’ve been unable to trace its origins. Perhaps the best of all is ‘circling over Shannon’, derived from the visit of Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s president, to Ireland when he was apparently too drunk to get off the plane. As his aides desperately tried to sober him up, the plane circled six times over Shannon airport before landing briefly, though Yeltsin never made it off the plane. Ultimately pleading ill health, he might well have admitted to being ‘melted’ – in other words very tired. Which is what you get when you have, as they say, ‘had the drink taken.’