Down with Doublespeak

It is with much delight that I read the following news article:

I despise managementspeak. Some forms of trade and academic jargon are unavoidable, encompassing complex ideas and concepts in a quick form can be essential for communication in some arenas. Management is not one of those arenas, and management jargon has become the most cliche-ridden form of communication in English. Its use seems to be at utter odds with the basics of transparent communication, designed to create an artificial management elite and reinforce the misguided image that time is so sparse in a busy manager’s life that he or she cannot spare the time to use simple English to explain what they mean. I say ‘designed’, but I don’t really credit the sort of people who use this kind of language with the forethought to consciously design anything. Even if phrases such as ‘blue sky thinking’ ‘and ‘thought showers’ were once well-intentioned, and perhaps even useful, they have long been passed into the hands of the lazy and self-referential so that they have lost all genuine meaning.

I heartily encourage others to treat it the same way I do – point and laugh at any person, manager or otherwise, who utters such nonsense as ‘360 appraisal’ and ‘synergistic marketing opportunities’. For those of a more aggressive bent, might I suggest the words of Jules, from Pulp Fiction: “English, Motherf- ! Do-you-speak-it?”*

I’ll leave you with a favourite observation:

“Process,” “structure,” “interface,” “problem”: abstract nouns like this go a long way toward establishing a modular international language, deprived of anything specific or verifiable. “Information” is a prime example of a plastic word, for it can mean anything and nothing. “The insatiable craving for more and more information,” Poerksen writes, “is not an indication of the riches to be had in this universally desired elixir, but rather of its impoverishment. It never satisfies.” We can never get enough of it. We’re so often told that we live in an information society, it’s no wonder that we’re nervous about not being well-informed.
Mark Abley, The Prodigal Tongue, quoting Uwe Poerksen, Plastic Words: The Tyranny of a Modular Language.

*On a related note, the substitution of letters or shortening of swear words is a pointless excercise, but search engines and filters being what they are, I guess I have to make some sacrifices. The oddest example of this I have come across recently came from the tv documentary series Ross Kemp: Return to Afghanistan. The soldiers in the programme can clearly be heard swearing like, well like soldiers! Yet in their wisdom, the producers have decided that it is one thing to hear swearing and another to read it, and so the subtitles appear with ‘motherf*cker’, ‘f*ck this’, ‘f*cking shoot him’ and so on… It boggles the mind, it really does.

Published in: on March 18, 2009 at 10:56 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Management-speak is obfuscation, pure and simple. It’s used by those with nothing to say. A lot of it’s downright sinister – it prevents others from contributing their opinion by making them feel they’re not sufficiently knowledgeable to do so. It’s worse than stupidity – whose lack of clarity may be forgiven – and so truly apalling that not only should scorn and doubt be heaped upon the delivery, but equally heavily upon whatever message it is apparently intended to convey, whatever conceited little opinion the obfuscator appears to hide behind it.

    I could rant for hundreds of years about deceptive use of language. It might be remiss of me to rank management-speak alongside Amtssprache (which itself means “office talk”) in its effects, but all deliberate uses of deceptive or intentionally confusing language allow sinister purpose and should be stamped out. Any time anybody tells you anything – anything at all – the first question to ask yourself is whether or not they told you it in the clearest fashion they possibly could. If the answer to that is no, then ask yourself – and, if necessary, them – exactly why that is. Clarity is the first indicator of truth – and usually knowledge, understanding and wisdom as well.


  2. Your point about swearing is one of my personal bugbears; I regard the self-censorship of ‘rude words’ that occurs in the media as childish titilation at best, hypocrisy at worst.

    It’s pretending to adhere to an ethical code, whilst really not self-censoring at all… After all it’s not like everyone out there doesn’t know exactly what ‘f*ck’ or ‘feck’ or ‘frack’ stands for anyway.

    I dunno, it just seems like a hypocritical way to go about protecting the impressionable and the prudish.

    Doublespeak and doublethink doubleplus ungood indeed…


  3. I quite agree and I think its just as bad in the academic world.

    I’m writing a history Ph.D. at the moment, and the number of authors who seem to think using a word that is under 5 letters long is a bad of dishonor.

    True you can’t discuss the history of magic without using the term Neoplatonic, and like you said, some technical terms are the only ones that can describe a particular concept.

    I know it’s possible write a paragraph of prose that does not require reading through three times just to decipher. When there is a simple word that can be used to describe something just as well as an overly complex term I do wish people would use it.


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