Say What?

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Say What?
Some words simply change in meaning over time.
“Gay” meant happy when I was a child. “Virtual” was almost rather than electronic space and “cloud” meant something cottonwool like in the sky.
This is part of the evolution of language as new generations try to stamp their presence and relevance on society. And sometimes, it’s just humanity coping with the changes and trying to couch new things in some relevant fashion.
This does not bother me.
But, there are at least three groups whose job entails using a lot of words that hopefully say nothing that can be used against them.
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First, there is the “defence” sector. This alone is an euphemism. In the past, countries had a Ministry of War rather than a Ministry of Defence. The latter just sounds cuddlier and protective, though it has coined phrases like “collateral damage”, which don’t mean a damaged shed.
Then there is management speak. Words like “downsizing”, “deliverables”, “data points”, “incentivise” and the various forms of the word “impact” all avoid using plain, self-explanatory and straightforward words. It may be intentional. “Downsizing” does sound less threatening than having to say: “Many employees had their contracts of employment terminated”.
Then there are economists who say elusive things like “quantitative easing” which only means to print more money. They also aim to hide the truth in plain sight by the words and terms they choose. An employee is “terminated” sounds more ominous than “fired” (though you can terminate someone with a shot).
I remember in the old days when Singapore’s pioneering leaders Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Dr Goh Keng Swee insisted on clarity. I remember that even as a child I could understand what they wrote or said. The messaging was crisp and clear even when what they said was profound.
But that’s not the case these days. Senior positions in government are now infested with those with backgrounds in defence, management and economics. The result? A total absence of clear communication.
I hear references to an “education experience” (adopted no doubt from similarly silly phrases like “life experience” and “holiday experience”). I would have thought that the concept of experience is automatically a part of education, be it life or holidays. It just sounds better, apparently.
It has actually spread more widely than that. This is from a world-famous professor of rhetoric and comparative literature:

"The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power."

I call her bluff. I think this is the lingual equivalent of the Emperor’s New Clothes – it is absolute balderdash.
This is from an equally famous author:

“Attention and intention are the mechanics of manifestation”.

Okay, this may not be quite as nonsensical. Perhaps this is just a convoluted way of saying I do what I want. But why not say just that? But it is all terribly irksome.
In the end, the blandness leads to eyes glazing over. Try these three vision statements:
  1. “People, Our Pride. Integrity, Our Core. Service, Our Pledge. Excellence, Our Quest”.
  2. “To craft the brands and choice of drinks that people love, to refresh them in body & spirit. And done in ways that create a more sustainable business and better shared future that makes a difference in people’s lives, communities and our planet”.
  3. “To create a better everyday life for the many people”.
They are from the Coca-Cola Company, IKEA and the Public Service Division. Can you tell which is which? And which organisation you’re likely to fit into better?

“People, Our Pride. Integrity, Our Core. Service, Our Pledge. Excellence, Our Quest”.

Public Service Division

"To craft the brands and choice of drinks that people love, to refresh them in body & spirit. And done in ways that create a more sustainable business and better shared future that makes a difference in people’s lives, communities and our planet".

Coca-Cola

"To create a better everyday life for the many people".

IKEA

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