Author Says Bush and Blair Are Mangling English

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Nov 16 20:17:00 UTC 2004

Author Says Bush and Blair Are Mangling English

Tue Nov 16, 8:50 AM ET

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - The English language is being destroyed by a "deadly
virus of management speak" which has infected the mouths and minds of
politicians like Tony Blair (news - web sites) and George W. Bush, a
leading UK journalist said Monday.  The British Prime Minister and his
ally the U.S. President are mangling the language, destroying its meaning
by avoiding the use of verbs, twisting nouns into verbs, and endlessly
repeating phrases until they become "zombified."

"It's deeply depressing," says John Humphrys, one of Britain's leading
political journalists and the author of a new book, "Lost for Words,"
about the demise of the language. Humphys' book laments the growth of
"cliched, dumbed-down, inflated and bogus management-speak" which he says
now passes for English. In particular he criticizes political leaders for
being sucked into using meaningless phrases and hackneyed mantras to
disguise policies or protect themselves from accountability.

Humphrys has been a journalist for 45 years and in his current post as a
presenter on BBC radio's news and current affairs program "Today," he
regularly interviews world leaders. "The whole essence of a good lively
democracy is that one has good lively argument," he told Reuters in an
interview. "But this kind of language kills real debate."

"And nobody is prepared to stand up and say: 'what does that mean?'
because the assumption is made that if you don't know what it means then
there is something wrong with you."


Humphrys says the original culprits in the destruction of English are
"business gurus who are trying to sell their own particular theories and
have invented their own ridiculous phrases and vocabulary to accompany
those theories."

But for him the more sinister development is that such language has taken
root in political discourse.

Humphrys picks on Bush -- who once famously used the word
"misunderestimate" -- and pokes fun at him as someone who "often speaks as
though English were his second language."

He also labels the U.S. leader a "master of the language of political
manipulation" and accuses him of sweeping aside all the nuances of notions
like freedom, truth and democracy and instead firing the words out like
"dum-dum bullets."

"Repetition has taken them beyond cliche," Humphrys writes. "They have
become zombified words whose meaning is no longer the point."

Blair, too, is singled out as a king of language corruption.

Humphrys notes Blair's apparent fear of verbs and mocks his speeches,
which are peppered with verbless phrases like "new challenges, new ideas,"
or "for our young people, a brighter future" and "the age of achievement,
at home and abroad."

By using this technique, Humphrys says, Blair is simply evading

"The point about verbs is that they commit the speaker," he writes. "Verbs
cement sentences to their meaning so it's not surprising that politicians
tend to mistrust them."

Humphrys also blames institutions like the European Union (news - web
sites) and the world's media for the decline in standards of English.

He laments the inclusion of such words as "pertannually" in the proposed
EU constitution -- and despairs that when concerns were raised, the word
was replaced with "insubdurience."

He urges the public, and journalists in particular, to reject meaningless
phrases and to demand they are explained.

"When you get enough people pointing it out, the public starts to spot
what is going on," he says. "That's why the battle has to be fought."

"We should expect -- and should demand -- that when people are setting out
policies or trying to persuade us of something, they engage in proper
debate and don't simply give us a set of unchallengeable propositions."

Copyright  2004 Reuters Limited.

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