‘MISSION critical’ is a term that shouldn’t be used unless one is in fact on a critical mission: on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise perhaps or dodging the guns of Navarone. It is not appropriate in normal conversation.
But we seem to have invented a new variation of our language where we use technical words, far too many words and even made-up words to describe normal events and it’s making English unintelligible.
Worryingly though, this has been going on for a long time.
Journalist John Rentoul credits his popular “banned list” of the top 100 such words and phrases to George Orwell’s essay on Politics and the English Language (1946). Two of Orwell’s rules to protect English include: “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent”; and “never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print”.
Far from heeding Orwell’s warning, we’re getting worse: it’s not uncommon to hear someone refer to their office as a “high octane” environment; or learning to drive being a “basic life skill”; or deciding whether or not something is “doable”.
Then there’s the tendency to use lots of words when far fewer would actually do. Is it necessary to say, for example: “It is crucial to consult with key stakeholders in communities to ensure buy-in”; or would “ask people what they want” do?
How did we get here? Was it in an attempt to make things sound more complicated or clever? Why? Many public documents now come with an “easy read” version – aimed at who? The silly people who can’t understand the jargon?
Why not make easy read versions the only version and just refer to people, not “stakeholders” or talk about planning, not “scoping” and forget entirely about “future-proofing”.
Once you become aware of it, you realise that almost everyone uses this language in some way. Who hasn’t used the term “we are where we are” or heard a politician refer to a policy as “evidence based”?
If you try to resist, you may find your speech is full of long pauses as you search for a “normal” word and your colleagues may not understand you any more.
Maybe we shouldn’t bother. Maybe we should just accept that at the end of the day our lexicon is organic and in tune with the demands of our current demographic; even if we tried to swim against the tide, it would take a sea change of seismic proportion to render our language fit for purpose, Orwellian style. It’s a no-brainer. End of.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west