Sunday, July 10, 2005

Say Anything

My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.
--Ernest Hemingway
This week's Newsweek contains an interview with author Don Watson, whose book Death Sentences: How Cliches, Weasel Words, and Management Speak are Strangling Public Language became a bestseller in Australia last year and was just released here two months ago.

Corporate boardrooms used to be the only places you'd hear words like "mission statement" and "evaluation of outcomes" and "leveraging the enhancement of dialogues to create impactful resolutions." We used to call it "Corp-Speak." Now it's made its way into our schools, churches, and politics. Watson said that his 12-year-old granddaughter brought home a report card that said she had "developed a variety of products" in history class, and that she has been asked to write her English essays in a PowerPoint presentation.

In answer to the question, "How has business-speak changed society?" Watson replies:
We are all customers. Even the CIA talks about having internal clients. I’m quite sure that in another iteration, the Army will talk about enemy clients. Once they decide we’re all customers then the consequences for basic relationships in civil society are not good.
On his Weasel Words website, he refers to consultants as "Plague Rats of Managerialism." I highly recommend visiting this page and scrolling down to a spoof of a consultant's answer to "Why did the Chicken Cross the Road?" This is just the first paragraph:
Deregulation of the chicken's side of the road was threatening its dominant market position. The chicken was faced with significant challenges to create and develop the competencies required for the newly competitive market. Andersen Consulting, in a partnering relationship with the client, helped the chicken by rethinking its physical distribution strategy and implementation processes.
Yeah. I can see where this is going.

As a writer, I hate to see words abused. I hate to see meaning smothered under superfluous modifiers, verbs that aren't really verbs (i.e., "dialogued"), and mindless repetition of phrases.

But it disturbs me more as a human being. The invasion of corp-speak into everyday life, turning us all into consumers and clients, dilutes and demeans our relationships. When hospitals refer to births as "OB products," how long before we start calling our spouses "connubial clients," with whom we strive to produce an enhanced outcome we once knew as "happiness"?


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