Monday, January 11, 2010

Weasel Words and Corporate Speak

Here is the link to a very funny 40-minute video of a speech by Don Watson on the absurdity of business language jargon. Don Watson is an Australian who has written Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language and Gobbledygook. In his speech, he points out the absurdity of corporate speak giving as examples “adverse patient outcome” (they died) and “historically dry circumstance” (drought).

What is the purpose and actual meaning of mission statements? Do we really want to “delight our customers”? Is it realistic to expect finance department officials to be “agile and passionate”? Does a grade 2 classroom really need a mission statement? And if it does, do we really want to encourage 7 year olds to be risk takers - in the playground perhaps?

Watson responds to a letter addressed to “Dear Valued Customer” by writing “Dear Bureaucrat.” He also suggests testing your wording by pretending you are writing to your mother – you would never write “Dear Valued Mother.”

The examples Watson uses are funny, but he also points out the risks of jargon. The warnings about last year’s forest fires in Australia were so abstract that the public didn’t understand the risk. And it is a depressing judgment of our politicians when the media questions are more informative than the answers.

(with thanks to Signal vs. Noise)

1 comment:

John B. said...

The answer in England is the use of 'childpeak'. The Bank does not put a heading 'Credits'. It writes 'What we are paying you and why'. I suppose it has its advantages.

On cars and buses, why can I read my newspaper on the bus but not in my car? Why can't I have a guidance system on motorways (freeways) so that I can't get into a multi-car shunt while I use my phone?

Now 'multi-car shunt' is a splendid piece of useful jargon. It describes a phenomenon unknown to earlier generations.

On corporate speak I quote Milton in Paradise Lost:

Paradise Lost, Book III, line 681:

So spake the false dissembler unperceived,
For neither man nor angel can discern
Hypocrisy, the only evil that walks
Invisible, except to God alone,
By his permissive will, through heaven and earth;