This blog shares some of our thoughts about plain language, and the latest discussions about plain English and clear design in New Zealand, and around the world.

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15 August 2013

Taking issue with issues (and other such euphemisms)

Joe Bennett's opinion columns, syndicated in several New Zealand newspapers, are usually well worth reading. He can be a grumpy curmudgeon, but he's also witty, and unafraid of offending. That courage means that he writes with honesty and a refreshing ability to cut through stodge.

His latest column, in the DominionPost of 14 August, is a beauty. Of course, I would think that, because Bennett takes aim and blasts away at the ghastly euphemisms that we all come across every day...and that I too often find ridiculous.

The word 'provider', when attached to words like school or internet service, becomes nonsensical, Bennett argues. And I love his attack on a phrase he recently heard in an online message from his (hrmmph) internet provider: 'our server is currently experiencing issues.'
As he points out, a server is in an inanimate object incapable of experiencing anything. And issues are usually the word for something bad that the  writer is too scared to name or accept responsibility for.

At Write, we often do an exercise with participants on our business writing workshops, where we give them four columns, each containing a list of nouns from the current business jargon. You know the kind of words I mean. Database, facilitation, partnership, initiative...and so on.

We ask people to choose any random noun from each of the columns to make a wordy, jargon-laden job title or activity. A noun string, in other words. So using the words I just chose, we'd have a database facilitation partnership initiative.

The scary thing is, people tend to find that the noun strings they create sound disturbingly realistic and possible. That's because jargon and euphemisms are everywhere, and we all read them every day. They can start to sound almost normal, and that's a terrible thing.

So good on you, Joe Bennett, for ridiculing vague language and euphemisms. I'm with you.

1 comment:

  1. I came back to NZ from 11 years in the UK. (Sorry about all those acronyms.) When I started work, I was mystified by the title of one of my colleagues. Human resources 'advisor'. So that means she doesn't do anything except make suggestions? "Hey, pssst, what about trying this?" Eventually I plucked up the courage to ask, and found out she'd have been an executive or manager in earlier years.