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I just read a really interesting book called "Death sentence - the decay of public language" by Don Watson. It's all about how governments, corporations and organizations no longer use meaningful words when they make statements. Instead they use wierd buzzwords and catch-phrases that sound meaningful but actually aren't. The book uses examples from all over the world and compares modern statements to old political speeches (Lincoln etc) and poetry. The modern ones look ludicrous and confusing compared to the old ones, which were powerful and had clear messages.
An example the author often uses is the phrase "committed to." Politicians and corporate memos use it all the time, and it doesn't actually mean anything. Example:
"Prime Minister, what are you doing about homelessness?"
"We are firmly committed to the issue of homelessness."
What does this mean? They want poeple to be homeless? They are planning on vaguely doing something about homelessness?
Of course all of these words all have meanings (dictionary definitions) but that's not what the book is getting at. These buzzwords and catch phrases all have specific uses, and are used like ritual responses to ritual questions. It's getting to the point where no-one ever says anything of substance in the public arena.
One of my favourites is "we can neither confirm nor deny" when it is used to answer a question about something which the speaker clearly has knowledge of but doesn't want to reveal.
It doesn't mean "we can neither confirm nor deny" it means "we will neither confirm nor deny." There's a subtle but huge difference. If someone says "we will neither confirm nor deny" the obvious question would be "why not? Hey, who are you to decide what the public can and can't know?"
But all it takes is to change that word "will" to "can" and suddenly everyone feels fine. "It's OK, he's not hiding anything. It's not that he won't tell us, it's that he can't. He doesn't have the authority. Let's all stop asking questions and go home now." The funny thing is that this one works even when the person questioned clearly does have the authority. Presidents and prime ministers say it alot, and no-one thinks to say "hey wait a minute, if he can't tell us then who the hell can? Didn't we elect him as our leader? Who has more authority than our elected leader?"
It's pretty alarming stuff, but amusing too. Any of you who work for a government dept. (as I do) or for the military know exactly what I'm talking about.
So does anyone else have a favourite (and by that I mean hated) buzzword or catch phrase?
Last edited by Kahoolin; November 17th, 2005 at 03:50.
We've got to fight them over there, so we don't have to fight them over here.
(Are our homeland defense forces that weak? So we'd rather there citizens take the hit, not ours? Are we really going to see beheadings in the street? So how about the London subs, the recent arrests in Australia, or the Boston scare, did the fighting in Iraq prevent those or did it exacerbate the threats?)
I absolutely hate it when someone says "We're working on it/that" when it's so obvious that they're not.
A billion chinese can't be wrong - eat rice.
Politicians give themselves room to manouvre - if something goes wrong that is out of their control they can maintain their position and respect.
As soon as one of them gives a definitive answer the media (and by extension, the population) will jump on it and keep up the pressure. With modern media being so vast and information so available giving a concrete answer ironically leaves you open to later criticism.
This is what happens when governments are full of lawyers. (Clinton and the definition of "is" for example)
Having an army and not owning a rulebook is like owning a car with no steering wheel.Originally Posted by amishcellphone
Yeah that's why they do it, but if you think about it what is the end result of this? Leaders and policy makers who never openly lead or make policy. They just say empty words that are actually calculated to be meaningless and have multiple interpretations, then do whatever they want behind the scenes. These words are to the public like a pacifier for a baby. In Australia we call pacifiers "dummies."
I really recommend this book to anyone who's interested, its very good. Even though the author is Australian and the book is directed towards Australians, the examples are taken from all over the world and from all "sides" of politics. There is no partisan bias. I think probably alot of people who read my first post were put off when they saw the words "president" and "corporations" and assumed that the book has an anti-globalization or anti-conservative bias. That is not so, it is about how EVERYONE in the public sphere uses decayed language, and as Rork said, it is a direct result of media scrutiny and the traditional power of words.
Another intersting thing is that the author points out that the German philosopher Freidrich Neitszche predicted this happening as an unavoidable result of widespread democracy. Neitszche thought democracy was "a calculated plan to enslave the intellectual elite to the will of the stupid masses." That's something you don't hear every day
It's fun, now whenever I watch the news I try to identify when a public figure says something that has no meaning. It's frighteningly often.
Last edited by Kahoolin; November 18th, 2005 at 01:03.
Yes, indeed, I heard Phillip Ruddock (Government Attorney General) talk today about the compulsory mediation changes for domestic violence, and the punishments brought in for false claims.
He is a water caste Tau, a Por'Vre. He can speak for 5 minutes and not say anything.