Friday, 10 July 2009

Gobbledygook by Don Watson

(Subtitle: How sludge and management speak are strangling our public language.)

Don Watson is an Australian writer who is fed up with words like ‘closure’, ‘key strategies’, ‘enhance’ and ‘commitment’ – words he terms ‘weasel words’. Unfortunately they make up most of our current public language – in the media, in politics, and in business. They are words which mean nothing; they are clichés, they are defense systems, they are empty fluff designed to confuse and to be ambiguous, leaving the most ‘wriggle-room’ for the speaker to mean anything at all.

Gobbledygook (also published as Death Sentence) is a sort of book-long essay (or rant) about the decay of public language, how it arose and became this rotten – and how to recognize and reject it. Watson makes the interesting point that this ‘management-speak’ has almost always been used in businesses; this is not exactly news. But he points out that business language is now infiltrating politics, educational institutions, libraries, and all sorts of other public service areas so that one can scarcely walk out the door without encountering a ‘commitment to enhancement of key customer values’, of one sort or another.

It is also interesting to see it in print – to understand wholly that it is TRUE that this language simply clouds our minds. It does not clarify anything, and it does not communicate anything. Watson also points out that language is supposed to change and develop; that is not what he is ranting against. Abbreviations, slang and grammatical laxness are one thing, as long as you are able to communicate your ideas which is why we have language in the first place. Telling someone you are “enhancing key strategies” means pretty much nothing at all, and the listener (or reader)’s eyes will simply glaze over, and their mind will register nothing but an empty clichéd phrase.

I wouldn’t put him up there with Bryson or Fry, but Watson’s writing is clever and sometimes witty, and packed full of brain nutrients. I am really glad I read this and can now try to identify rubbish words and slice them out of MY language. If you want to join the fight against weasel words –

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