Some words and phrases have become so embedded in speech that we no longer notice their absurdity and simply accept them. This is dangerous. Dangerous for clarity of thought. Dangerous for the language.
Of these expressions, the one I’m singling out today, among a myriad of candidates, is the use, or more accurately the misuse, of the word “absolutely”. Like the phrase “going forward” it’s redundant. It’s about as much use in a sentence as a snowman is in an avalanche. And you’ll hear it, in the main, on the lips of politicians and, to a slightly lesser extent, used by spokespersons of fat, self- important organisations. Our own prime minister uses it like a comfort blanket.
“We have absolutely no intention …”
“I absolutely agree …”
“Let me make myself absolutely clear …”
“I absolutely take that on board … “
“It’s absolute nonsense … “
At least I can agree with that last one. It is nonsense. Just listen next time you turn on the radio or TV, especially if the interviewee is a politician. Count how many times he or she uses the word. On the other hand don’t, as getting worked up does nasty things to the blood pressure.
Not only is sloppy language indicative of sloppy though – yes, I know, this is one of my frequently ridden hobby horses – it is also somewhat sinister. When a politician or a bureaucrat or a spokesman for some public or private monolith uses the ‘A’ word it’s like a signal. It means the opposite to what is being conveyed. “Absolutely” meaning “yes” is at best hypocritical, often a downright lie. Having “absolutely no intention” of doing something usually means the contrary. Making oneself “absolutely clear” means “I’m the one in charge, mate, so what I say goes.”