Sleight of mouth

commentary Companies are actioning plans to better monetise their dealings with you moving forward.Whether it's called "spin doctoring" or just plain propaganda, the art of trying to pass off bad news as, well, good news is making a mockery of the way we communicate.



commentary Companies are actioning plans to better monetise their dealings with you moving forward.

Whether it's called "spin doctoring" or just plain propaganda, the art of trying to pass off bad news as, well, good news is making a mockery of the way we communicate.
I guess it's good that language is an evolving thing. Otherwise we'd still be theeing and thineing each other, and worrying whether the person to whom we were speaking would notice if we said "who" instead. Of course, spelling wasn't an exact science in those days -- you spelled words as they sounded, and throwing in a couple of extra "e"s or extra consonants now and then didn't hurt. Kids in 18th-century spelling bees must have had a wonderful time. "That's close enough, Bartholomew. Welle dunne."

Changes and new developments in language can be attributed to a wide variety of factors: the interaction between cultures (eg, the dreaded typhoon and the even more horrifying karaoke from the Far East), the development of new technologies and formats (blogs and googling), or even simplifications of existing words ("I'm temping at XYZ company for the moment").

But by far the most disturbing factor prompting new developments in language has to be that of misdirection.

Whether it's called "spin doctoring" or just plain propaganda, the art of trying to pass off bad news as, well, good news is making a mockery of the way we communicate.

There are fairly innocuous examples. An out-of-work househusband can tell people he's in "domestic engineering", for example.

Or sometimes the simple turning of a noun into a verb can seem to lend a bit of gravity to a situation that might not otherwise sound so good.

Bill Gates' saying that "Everything we are doing has been impacted" by security concerns sounds a lot better than "We so did not have security covered in Windows."

But when a politician can spin a defense for certain aggressive actions by calling them "pre-emptive self-defense", something is definitely not right.

Okay, I know what you're saying -- politicians have been doing that for a long time. It's just that the practice seems so much more prevalent in the IT industry these days -- no doubt because the rapid pace of development makes it possible to come up with new types of spin for making a buck before anyone gets a chance to figure out what's going on.

"Making a buck" -- pardon me, I meant to say "monetising". (Or if that's still a bit too close to the word "money" for your tastes, you might be more comfortable with the act of "premiumisation".)

It's not always pure evil. Sometimes this word styling is just an attempt to get one's message to be heard above the cacophony of marketers screaming for attention -- a charming approach tagged as the "two-by-four effect" by US author Dave Shenk.

I must say that I much prefer the direct, honest approach. Microsoft's calling the Passport service that kept track of important data used by e-commerce sites "Microsoft Wallet" was disarmingly straightforward.

Unfortunately, security concerns impacted the product and it's never been the same.

But that hasn't stopped others from giving it another go. The next "wallet" is apparently going to be your mobile phone. (It's already where a good deal of my money goes anyway, so it makes sense I guess.)

In Japan, the mobile phone industry is looking to cram your wallet into your phone with a small embedded chip that can also store money and personal information -- something like crossing your mobile with an e-tag. Vodafone is looking at it too.

Someday people will look back and be astounded to discover that at one time the word "wallet" meant nothing more than a handy leather case used to hold paper and plastic money... instead of a corporate premiumisation program.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
Click here for subscription information.

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All