Monday, April 14, 2008

good reading

This is a plug for the book I've recently stuck my nose in -- Death Sentences by Don Watson. "How cliches, weasel words, and management-speak are strangling public language."

I recommend it for anyone that looses their minds trying to read, write, or listen to over-fluffed up, jardon-filled nonsense that reminds one of Walter Mitty or Newspeak.

When I was a child, I detested the King James Bible, Shakespeare, and all pastoral poetry. Now as I read this new book, I miss the days of words having purpose, concise meaning, and the writers that could put together a string of words to move your soul. Now it seems I am exactly where I was -- but with more respect for the King James verse, and the great poets of the past -- and the world has shifted around me.

It's strange to look back now and reflect on "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", 1984, The Giver, and so many others and begin to realize that they are frighteningly more accurate than I ever thought they could become.

Some theorize that science fiction imitates culture and others contend that culture/society patterns itself after science fiction. Perhaps it is both, perchance it is coincidence. To play the "what if" game for a minute, if I were given the opportunity to ask George Orwell any one question, it would be this: "Did you ever think that the current language used in corporate settings would ever get so ambiguous, meaningless, and useless?"

Here's a random example of the language I mean, as cited by Don Watson in his book: "Third generation strategy maps have been designed to overcome the limitations that have made balanced scorecards notoriously difficult to fully implement.... The strategy map begins with a strategic goal, is followed immediately with a strategic value proposition and end with a cause and effect systems diagram that outlines what needs to be done to achieve results." (Watson quotes from the Oregon Health and Science University).

What the hell is that anyway? A bunch of gibberish to claim that somewhere, someone is paid to come up with graphs and charts reiterating that there are in fact graphs and charts to make claims to cause some board of directors, CEO, or pompous pigs in suits somewhere... to smile and pat themselves on the back for a job well done? It's like proving that 95% of all statistics are made up on the spot, isn't it?

But the absolute uselessness of that paragraph, beyond "we've got evidence to support our claims" in over-fluffed, over-stuffed language, is that is doesn't even lay out any claims. It just occupies space on a page and discourages anyone from reading it, let alone thinking about it. And this empty language is what Watson claims in his book is infiltrating "public" language, or the everyday conversation. He begs the reader to pick up a paper, listen to the news, the sports, or commercials, and look for it. So I have been. And God help us, he's right.

I'll come back another day to how if I'd written something that vapid, I'd have failed 8th grade and senior Engligh. Thank you to those two educators that taught me the value of words and made me write stuff that made sense. Thank you to both of them for forcing me to write over-fluffed stuff as assignments to teach me the difference.

I recently had to rework my outdated resume into something a little more current. When I was done it would make any PR or HR guy proud. It is so over-the-top over-inflated with important and impressive sounding crap that I nearly vomited a bit in my mouth. But it has to be done that way, because "at-home mom" sounds like I was a failure as a post-childbearing adult, while "executive associate in child development with 8 years of research in the field and in a laboratory environment, overseeing and implementing practices in learning-based education with an emphasis on autonomy and cognitive thinking, with the forward-thinking goal of producing positive patterns that can be replicated indefinitely" sounds far more lucrative. How sad is that?
All of this has led me to borrow from a popular song with a slight twist:

"WORDS! Huh. What are they good for? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!"


I am a holdout. My words still have meaning. They always will.

1 comment:

Dach said...

It's only 58% of statistics that are made up. But what do I know, I'm just a statistician... :P