now the dialectic society?

Dennis Baron debaron at NTX1.CSO.UIUC.EDU
Tue Jul 20 14:34:08 UTC 1999

Here's a John Leo column I just found on the net that mentions ads, sort of
(I've put stars around the reference, toward the end of the text:

        Top of Form 1  <<...>>     <<...>>      Outlook 7/27/98 ON SOCIETY
BY JOHN LEO   Language in the dumps  At my local recycling center, I always
pause in wonderment at the bin marked "commingled containers." Whoever
thought up that term could have taken the easy way out and just written
"cans and bottles." But the goal apparently was to create a term that nobody
would ever use in conversation, then slap it on every can-and-bottle bin in
America to confuse as many people as possible. (The "co" is a nice
raised-pinky flourish. Since "mingled" means mixed up, "commingled" means
"co-mixed up.")  The gold standard in governmentspeak is still
"ground-mounted confirmatory route markers" (road signs), a traffic-control
term used from coast to coast. In Oxford, England, city officials decided to
"examine the feasibility of creating a structure in Hinksey Park from
indigenous vegetation." They were talking about planting a tree to get some
shade. As Joyce Kilmer might have put it, "Versified and rhythmic nonprose
verbal structures are made by fools like me, but only God can create a
solar-shielding park structure from low-rise indigenous vegetative
material."  In Britain, the Plain English Campaign came up with these
colorful examples of awful writing: "interoperable intermodal transport
systems" (bus and train timetables) and a supermarket help-wanted ad for "an
ambient replenishment assistant" (someone to stock shelves). One classic
award by the Plain English people went to a snack company for a letter to a
customer who complained that her potato chips were purple. When a chip is
discolored, the letter said, "it is difficult to say whether this is due to
a process of active migration of the anthocyanin from the periderm and
cortex or to the primary protection within the flesh of the tuber."
Whatever.  McCurry-speak. When it comes to co-mangled prose, America need
not take a back seat to Britain. Here is Mike McCurry, the wily White House
mouthpiece, replying to a reporter's question on whether Bill Clinton's
"coffees" were used to raise campaign funds: "Technically, [they were] not
used for fund-raising, but they became an element of the financial program
that we were trying to pursue in connection with the campaign." Bill Lann
Lee, rejected by the Senate but still the acting civil rights chief at the
Justice Department, used similar gobbledygook in referring to forced busing.
"Forced busing is a misnomer," he wrote. "School districts do not force
children to ride a bus but only to arrive on time at their assigned
schools."  Political correctness plays a role, too. The scholar Gertrude
Himmelfarb once asked a federal agency for up-to-date illegitimacy rates and
was told that the agency preferred less judgmental terms such as "nonmarital
childbearing" or "alternative mode of parenting." In the athletic department
at the University of Minnesota, players who steal are dismissed from their
teams not for theft but for "violating team rules regarding personal
property."  Professor William Lutz of Rutgers University, author of The New
Doublespeak, says that schools are a rich source of verbal nonsense.
Students now "achieve a deficiency" (they flunk tests). They take part in
"developmental studies" (remedial work) or "service learning" (compulsory
volunteer work). And they don't learn to write anymore--they "generate text"
out of "writing elements," "tagmemic invention," "paradigmatic analysis,"
and "heuristics." On the modern campus, the word "integration" is so
controversial that a Cornell University committee removed it from an
official report. So instead of "promoting integration across racial, ethnic,
college, and class-year distinctions," the report called for "promoting
meaningful interaction and connection across differences." Good news: The
president of Cornell had the wit to put the original wording back.
********The Dialectic Society *******gave its 1996 award for buzzword of the
year to "urban camper," a new term for "the homeless" or people who live on
the street. Similar euphemisms have crept into the language: extramarital
sex (adultery), "aggressive coalitionary behavior" (war games),
"hypervigilance" (paranoia), and "wall artist" (tagger, graffiti sprayer).
Gyms are now upscale, known as "wellness activities centers." In medicine,
patients who die "fail to achieve their wellness potential" and have to be
chalked up as "negative patient outcomes." For the U.S. government,
political killings conducted by governments we detest are still known as
political killings. If they happen in China, however, they are referred to
as "the arbitrary deprivation of life."  Business is pumping a lot of gas
into the language, too. We have "the social expression industry" (the
greeting card business), "meal replacement" (junk food), "a new-car
alternative" and "an experienced car" (a used car), "creative response
conceptions" (damage control by public relations people), and "access
controllers" (doormen). The federal government gave us "grain-consuming
animal units" (the Agriculture Department's term for cows), "single-purpose
agricultural facilities" (pigpens and chicken coops), and "post-consumer
waste materials" (garbage). Better yet, let's make that commingled
post-consumer processed units. The kind of stuff you find at a
single-purpose nonrecycling center, formerly a dump.

Dennis Baron, Head                       debaron at
Department of English                            217-333-2390
University of Illinois                          fax: 217-333-4321
608 S. Wright St.        http:www/
Urbana, IL 61801

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