Mangled English

questioning emoticonI wonder if George Orwell knew what he was unleashing on the world with the publication of his dystopean novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four?

The English language has been forever changed because of it. Big BrotherRoom 101, the Thought Policethoughtcrimeunpersonmemory hole (oblivion), doublethink (simultaneously holding and believing contradictory beliefs) and Newspeak (ideological language) have become common phrases. Doublethink has birthed twins – Doublespeak  and Groupthink.

Language is a living thing. I know that. Technology, social media, communication devices have forced us all to adopt and adapt language that fits with the newness that has invaded our lives on so many levels.

As I was reading the weekend paper the other day, I came across an interesting article written by Ian Henschke, a former South Australian television journalist and radio presenter. It’s called Let’s touch base for a deep dive into the ruin of plain speaking. Here’s what he had to say. I’ve shared it all as I found it such a thought provoking read – 

‘I HAD someone thank me the other day for returning their phone call.

They said they were glad I had because they wanted to “reach out” to me. I had to stop and think about what they were was saying. The trouble with mangling the English language is you don’t make yourself clear.

When they said “reach out” I thought of Diana Ross wanting to “touch somebody’s hand and make the world a better place”. But then the Four Tops song came blasting through my brain. I first heard that extraordinary rhythm and blues hit when I was 12. The rest of the lyrics still resonate. “I’ll be there to love and comfort you.” But I didn’t really want to be loved and comforted by someone I’d never met, let alone touch their hand.

What was going on? I just answered a phone message. I didn’t want a relationship. They clearly wanted to “go on a journey”. To “engage in a dialogue” while having “a meaningful conversation” with me as a “key stakeholder” so we they could go for a “deep dive” and think “outside the box”. Perhaps they wanted me [to] “share some learnings” so we could “sing off the same song sheet” while “moving forward”.

I thought I spoke English fluently and understood it when people spoke to me. But I just don’t know any more. At a meeting recently someone said they thought I was being too “granular”. To use the language of the text generation: WTF? They seemed to be suggesting I should have been having more of a “helicopter view” and been doing some “blue sky” thinking.

Perhaps they wanted me to “touch base” with them in a way that showed I was thinking more “holistically” and “strategically” so we could “get all our ducks in a row” and “go after the low hanging fruit”. But I wanted to “take the discussion offline” because I was offended by the “sharing” of their “thought bubble” about a “perception which can become a reality” about my “granularity”.

I have an honours degree in English and I have always loved clear, simple language. I admire people who say what they mean, and mean what they say. I studied the wonderful work of George Orwell. He wrote 1984 and showed us the perils of Newspeak. This was the controlled language of his fictional dystopia. He also despised the way language could be twisted and distorted into what he called doublespeak.

We no longer have mass sackings. We have “efficiency restructures”. When did a nursing home become an “aged care facility”? How did a kindy become an “early learning centre”? A smart student is now “gifted”. A disruptive one is “on the spectrum”. And so it goes.

Now you may think none of this matters. But I think it’s vitally important. Some people say the reason Malcolm Turnbull couldn’t win over the electorate was because he didn’t have the ability to speak in plain simple language. Gough Whitlam, who was a bit pompous at times, still knew that the best slogan was two words: “It’s time”.

We are drowning in drivel from politicians and educators. The bureaucrats bamboozle us with bumf. The social workers and psychologists use psychobabble and the business people use MBA BS. And don’t get me started on advertising, real estate or sporting jargon. It’s as if each group wants to hide behind its own form of emperor’s new clothes.

We’re supposed be relieved when someone in power at Centrelink announces a “difficult to navigate” 28-page form is going to be simplified into a “people friendly format”. I’m glad it’s going to be “people friendly” and not dolphin friendly. This is not a joke. This is real. On the website it says the new “people friendly format” is “to further improve transparency and choice “on the “portal”.

I went into a Centrelink office to get a CRN because apparently I needed one. I discovered a CRN is a customer reference number and to get it I had to provide identity documents to a real person and then “navigate” my way through the system alongside a dozen poor souls like myself staring at computer screens clicking mouses – or should that be mice because they all looked trapped. All were stuck to their chairs, struggling away, despite the “improved transparency” that must have been one of new KPIs (key performance indicators) for the “digital transformation” team in Canberra.

To my everlasting joy a vision appeared walking up and down the line translating the information being requested. Her name was Karin. I hope she reads this because she was an angel of mercy. She was a drink of water to people dying in a desert. She smiled and spoke plain simple English with a slight American accent. Thank you.’

I find the modern Newspeak has a way of seeping into my language without me even realising it half the time. Until one of the kids uses a word or an acronym that befuddles me. I have to ask. And then its – Lol, Mum! Don’t you know?!

Raili Tanska

Steps for Peace

Resistance is futile – accept change with grace and ease

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17 thoughts on “Mangled English

  1. I liked this post. As an English minor in university I also think I know the English language and try to use proper English words and grammar.
    Grammatical errors annoy me; especially if I read them in a book or article.
    Psychobabble of social workers… hmmm, as a social worker I do not think I ‘psychobabble’ but maybe I do??

    1. I worked most of my career in mental health. Like you, I loathe the bastardisation of the English language. Yet I became quite the expert in psychobabble. much to my horror! It is the expected norm, I do regret to say 😦

  2. Orwell was, hands down, a visionary. Unfortunately for us. I share your feelings. The other day I was musing about the dys- words for learning difficulties: in my time, I wasn’t bloody dyscalculic, I was just dumb at maths. Neither was I “gifted”, I was just good at languages. Clear-cut.

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