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The Forum > General Discussion > The demise of Plain English

The demise of Plain English

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Kerry O’Brien recently interviewed author Don Watson about corporate speak and the demise of plain language.

O'BRIEN: “And now "Bendable Learnings" is his third literary assault on what he calls "noxious management drivel". He contends that the poison is spreading beyond corporations, bureaucracy and politics, and through our entire culture from the suburban business to schools, sporting clubs, even the Church.”

Government has an evolving arsenal of buzz words and Don’s examples - 'synergies', 'accessibility', 'going forward made me laugh in recognition. Or the corporatised ‘down-balance’ instead of ‘sackings’ or ‘retrenchments’.

If you don’t speak the language you are at a considerable disadvantage in some departments. Words like probity, governance, Codes of Conduct, APS Values are mouthed a lot to give the appearance of modern and just governments, the reality can be quite different.

I hold my hand up as being guilty of using public service drivel at times.

It can be addictive when you are surrounded by it in the political arena, like a form of brainwashing. I try hard not to sound too much like a public servant when dealing with the public.

Public policy and corporate jargon changes over time depending on the latest political catch phrase – words like 'access' and 'inclusion' come to mind and the mindless “working families” - some of them valid words, losing value when over-used or politicised.

Have we become a society where what we say is more relevant than what we do? Where politicians and corporate executives speak volumes but say nothing?

Joe Hockey and Jon Stanhope would win my vote for the politicians who speak the-speak but don’t actually say anything nor do they respond openly or honestly to questions.

Lindsay Tanner would be my pick for the most honest.

Kevin Rudd is a bit of a catch-phrase speaker and in this I think John Howard was the better orator.

Does anyone have any favourites among the corporate and government speak that drive you crazy? Like Don Watson, do you think corporate speak is invading other corners of society, like Church, sport and community goups once considered immune?
Posted by pelican, Saturday, 10 October 2009 10:36:44 AM
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this is clearly a troll

[ok actually

havnt got thought about it yet
but just ticked..the email notice box

and am watching

my word mangling be done
next time


whats in my cut and paste

oh yeah...the demise of evolution
what other demises...demise de mise
tax the rich...return the fed...dont bomb iran
scale down the kids
bring docs to account
when really was jesus born

got nuthin
im watching...the demise of the earthy of the plain english/lash
Posted by one under god, Saturday, 10 October 2009 1:27:13 PM
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Dear Pelly,

A few years ago - our public service department
went through the process of "Re-structuring."
We all had to re-apply for our positions.
And buzzwords were the order of the day in our
job interviews. Words like:

Downsizing, Bestpractice, Benchmarking, Client-focused,
Customer-centric, Empowerment, Cutting-edge, Mission-Statement,
Value-added, Paradigm shift, Enable, Strategize - and so on
became the norm. There were no cut-backs - there was downsizing.
And you had to speak the speak - or else you were left out.
And the ones who best - spoke the speak - (have to laugh) - were not
the front line desk staff actually dealing with the everyday problems - but the administration who insisted on this
language being used by everyone during
the re-structuring process.

As for politicians? well, as we all know - polspeak - is
a special language used by pollies. It's a technique of
saying something as vaguely as possible - so that they
can deny it later, if need be. Malcolm Turnbull is an expert
at it. Though in reality, I guess they all are.

With today's technology - and texting - kids have a language
all their own - it's a code that takes a while in some
cases to decipher. I remember when I first started posting
on this Forum - I didn't know what LOL (laughing out loud)
stood for.

2 Y's UR
2 Y's UB
ICUR 2 Y's 4 me!
Posted by Foxy, Saturday, 10 October 2009 2:32:43 PM
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There's nothing worse than the Public Service's 1990s obsession with mission statements. It is verbal diahorrea of the worst type that is NEVER said with any conviction or intent. It's the public service equivalent of a free-mason's handshake - once you've mastered it, all doors open toward the inner sanctum. Needless to say, the sooner it's consigned to the dustbin of history, the better.

The one that annoys me the most these days is the appendage " ... going forward", particularly from economists.

PROMINENT ECONOMIST: "The economy is heading for the upside, going forward".

Like, hello, where else are we going? Backwards?

Reading between the lines, all this is, is a way of saying "Hi, I'm an important swinging dick". Yeah, if you say so.

As for the most honest politician, I agree about Tanner - he confronts issues head on in a fairly sober way. But there's still a question mark in my mind as to what he will achieve. I actually think the Liberals are more honest though. However, their problem is that when they get into power they are pretty much only talking to themselves and not the population at large. If you look at someone like George Brandis, his emphasis is on being absolutely truthful and precise. The problem is that it makes him look almost puritanical. So, as in all things, a balance needs to be struck between being honest and being representative of the public at large, IMO. It's a hard balance to strike.
Posted by RobP, Saturday, 10 October 2009 3:04:03 PM
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Yes you have to love the 'going forward' it is a beauty. I really find it quite demoralising at times and with latest staff cuts there is so much tension and the more dissent in the area the worse the bulldust speak comes out.

The lowest ranks in our deparment are being cut to fit in with the PM's budget cuts with senior officer roles being continually replaced.

A consultancy report which cost thousands was used to legitimize the decision to not replace staff at the lower levels. It is always the same in the PS the doers go and the number of oversighters continues to grow. And with it real services to those most in need are reduced.

Probably time for me to look for another job - which I will.

Foxy you are right - interview speak is another world in itself. You have to use lots of phrases like whole-of-government, enabling, synergies.

I am not sure of your meaning but I hope you can think on the topic a bit more and contribute later.
Posted by pelican, Saturday, 10 October 2009 3:17:08 PM
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ok...really..i love allows for a lot of isms..has naming words..that have definitive/obvious connotation..[as well as the hidden subversive/meanings..[that casts the spelling

words are sacred....sacred/words=s/words...and the pen is the mightiest-sword...when you write the histry..[its..'his'..who_writes-his-'story'...

i love that words have powers..[powers that lift up..[and power to bring down...the trouble being...those not knowing the words/meanings[are under its spell] im for dis-spelling a few of accept..via everyday meaning...but..that in law..mean other things

take a licence...; do that other wise statuted as illegal..[for you]]...see statutes..are in acts..statutes REGULATE..the powers of the govt...the[public]..servant...not us..the people...govt servants..cant touch the people..[govt was formed..for serve us

see..when we fill in one of the forms..[of the servant]...say apply for car rego..[or marrage..licence..[or live birth certification...we need to apply...[apply=beg...we beg for a licence..thus fall..subject to..the act..[designed to control the acts..of public servents..[govt]

when govt..registers our vehicle/marrage/birth/ becomes..a legal mine-field...the worst thing is..the legal maxim says/..a beggor knows..for what he when/we..apply...using their forms...thus we fall..under the act.,..only because we applied..UNDER..the act...

the act's..not for us..[its to control..empowered public servants..from abusing us..with govt excess..[and as only public sevants..[and traders...need apply..[under the act]...they just assume..we know..for what/we begged..[app-lied]

see it's all court the judge even asks..if/you UNDER/stand...legally you stand UNDER the law..[ie..U..are a public servant..under the act...

and..the mug in the dock..says..yes your honour..[your/whorship[warship..because its a maritime/contract/civil..juristiction.....i[legal term imbisile..[because you have a fool..for a lawyer]

we may explain time..that../what he just signed..[signing info legally a binding oath...govt has contractual/civil/maritime/criminal..juristiction...ONLY..because were sign con-tracts...govt calls forms..formed under acts...

NOT/via our uninformed concent..yet..dont inform us..of what were actually doing..when we declare..their in-form info..true..[faulsly]

..even our date of birth..isnt..'of our/own recall'..[see birth..means berthed..[landed cargo/shattles..]..that is accordingly/duely..registered...

when we register/a vehicle..or a child...legally we only have use of it/..[cause govt holds..the lawfull/bill of title..[cause we/signed it away...when we re-gist-ered it..just via..the act of..registration

[the cargo emerges..from the waters..and are accorded..a berthing registered..this sets us up..into UNDER standing..when-ever we detail the birth detail;s...we fall...under the act
Posted by one under god, Saturday, 10 October 2009 7:53:15 PM
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