Ministry of Propaganda

Ministry of Propaganda - 23/Oct/2005: "Recent Reading: Lost for Words"

[Previous entry: "I Would Have Blogged Earlier"] [Home] [Next entry: "Now With Dual Display"]

Recent Reading: Lost for Words

Not being a native speaker (nor having a linguistics degree) I might have missed some of the finer points, nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed reading John Humphrys' book Lost for Words: The Mangling and Manipulating of the English Language (extract). I might not always know when to use 'I' and when to use 'me', but I usually recognise it when politicians or corporate PR bods try to con me with meaningless dross of 'investments' or 'our valued customers'.

While claiming not to be a pedantic Humphrys cares about correct spelling and using language correctly, something he fears society doesn't care enough about. Not being a native speaker I didn't fully understand all the examples he gives, but I do care about it. I use a spell checker whenever possible, I have a dictionary on my desk which I use daily and try to pay attention to what I write. I find it disturbing to sometimes read their instead of they're from native speakers who should know better and think I've finally conquered its and it's (which for some reason I was struggling with). I accept that some people might struggle with spelling, grammar and punctuation, most of the time it is possible though to see who cares about it and who doesn't. If you notice any bad or repeated mistakes I make (and care about it), please let me know, I hope to improve my English.

More important though is the manipulation through language. Language is (or can be) a powerful weapon, especially when used by skilled people or politicians. Language can create a climate of fear while claiming to be a solution, just think of all the wars being fought at the moment. I've already mentioned the spending disguised as investment con, a lot of what the government tries to disguise as investment is actually spending (hiring more nurses for the NHS is spending, not investment, even if it is a good thing). It just sounds better and forward looking, spending is now while investments are for the future. This makes it more difficult for an opponent to challenge a statement, after all who wouldn't want to improve the future? Or what Humphrys calls 'hurrah words' vs 'boo words', words which through association close down a discussion. Clever yet scary.

He mainly has contempt for branding and marketing speak, including the craze for renaming (or 'rebranding') companies. I would add corporate mission statements, especially those of the 'be the market leader and do a great job for our customers' variety. It's just pointless blurb, stating the obvious. I'm still waiting for the company with the mission statement 'To be an also-ran and do a shoddy job for our customers'.

While not really bringing up new ideas the book still made me think more about how language is used and that we need to take care about it. Recommended if you're interested in language and how it is used.

End of entry

Entry trivia

End of entry trivia

Advertising section

End of advertising section

Spread the word:

Do you like this weblog? Do you think others might be interested in it? Then please tell a friend! Thank you.