commentary Former Keating speechwriter Don Watson recently penned a superbly insightful book Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language, which examines the slide of language in Australia.
Brain-numbing words such as "proactive," "transparency" and "commitment" are debasing the language of politics, Universities and other institutions. Watson's writings struck a particular chord with your correspondent, who occasionally wondered whether he was the only one who struggled to decipher presentations and briefings littered with deadening words such as "empower", "enable", "maximise", "xxx-centric", "sustainable", "value", "strategic" and "immersive". Of late, it seems the authors of this lifeless language have felt the need to enlist the word "passion" or "passionate" to breathe some life into the rotting corpses of their comments, only to see that word also drown in a sea of putrescent verbiage.
It goes without saying that the telecommunications and information technology sectors worldwide are among the worst offenders in plundering verbal cemeteries to "communicate" internally and externally. Searches for the word "empower" across a range of information technology and telecommunications Web sites inevitably pulled up a huge number of documents. The most (or least) impressive was Big Blue's site, where the search retrieved more than 1,000 documents. However, the unparalleled leaders in use of this sort of language are management consultants. Their memos and presentations are littered with the sort of poisonous words that ensure their writings lose all impact, meaning and indeed relevance. Your correspondent extracted this sentence from a document posted on an Accenture Web site -- no further comment required: "BP's senior management was determined to empower employees to succeed and transform the company into a digitally empowered organization." (Accenture is the organisation currently employing the grammatically interesting moniker High Performance Delivered for one of its programs).
A deep concern your writer has as a professional communicator is the extent to which such language has entrenched itself as the dialogue of business. When pointing out the ubiquity of deadened words and phrases in one presentation, I was informed that such language was a requirement in pitching to the marketing community. One wonders what the impact of a pitch written and presented in plain English and rigorously edited to eliminate the types of words listed above would be on a tech decision-maker in 2004. Probably scare the living daylights out of him or her and annihilate any prospect of new business for some time to come, one suspects.
It's without much hope, but a great deal of optimism that your writer calls on all those involved in the tech sector to stop the slaughter of the English language. Remember we're the custodians of the language for the next generation. At the moment, we're handing them a property that lacks movement and has a distinctly ripe smell. I would go harder and look to boycott any release or statement from the sector that contains the type of dead language listed above, but our news channel would start to look remarkably light on content.