Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bullshit watch (latest in a probably endless series)

I'm not against jargon. I actually quite like learning new examples. And I don't get particularly bothered about clich├ęs like "driving the business forward" because at least I know what they're trying to say, as does the person using them. The idea has taken root in British culture that we are a nation of stout, unpretentious souls who are held back by a managerial class who talk in unintelligible gibberish. I don't buy it.
But where I do fall out with the writer of press releases - and press releases are the key instrument of touchy-feely government and please-love-me business - is when I feel that the awkwardness of the language is there to hide the fact that the writer doesn't know what they are supposed to be saying. Either that or they know only too well but are afraid to say it. One anonymous poster described the Sony example as "a desire to communicate ideas which are either totally fanciful or beyond the writers' vocabulary." I think the former is certainly true.
Somebody asked "does anybody actually believe this stuff?" and the answer, interestingly, is no. But that doesn't matter to the organisation, which is just keen to be seen to be doing something.
All this in the same week that the government's Minister For Children announced that they wished to make children happier by "securing a holistic approach to tackling children's issues." Apart from the fact that "holistic" is just "co-ordinated" for people who shop at Ikea and there is no such thing as "a children's issue", I just want to say this. As the owner of three children, most of whom aren't children any more, I can assure the government that it is quite beyond the power of parents to make their own children happy, let alone somebody in Whitehall. Christmas is the annual festival provided for us to learn this lesson time and time again.


  1. Anonymous9:30 pm

    When I hear the word "holistic" I reach for my pistol.

  2. David, I think you're absolutely right, and I also think your first sentence about not minding jargon is correct.

    People often rail against buzzwords without appreciating that they really do have meaning, and are frequently used correctly when a more general phrase would be less precise.

    'Holism' and 'Synergy' are valuable concepts in business and in other fields. 'Paradigm' is not just a fancy word for 'idea' (I had a long argument about this once).

    'Thinking outside the box' is a trite and overused phrase, but it's a decent metaphor for a worthwhile activity, as is 'parking' an idea.

    The hateful thing is when you look behind the words and find nothing, as in this Sony junk.

  3. Anonymous3:03 pm

    Absolutely agree about the jargon.

    However disagree with you about the parents / happiness thing.

    I think it is a parent's job to make their kids happy. I am 41 and whenever I'm unhappy I always blame my parents. They might use your argument that they can't make me happy.

    But hey, they ain't getting away with it that lightly..

    Keep up the good work.

  4. Anonymous2:29 pm

    My favourite was a poster for a useless film with the usual preaise from a gushing hack: "If you see a better film than this all year, you're a liar."
    Considering how many people would have read, subbed and proof that, amazing how no-one noticed it was an argument where the premise and conclusion had nothing to do with each other

  5. Anonymous2:34 pm

    ..which is rich coming from someone who can't spell 'praise'!

  6. Half way through this faintly amusing video about the Sony Walkman ad, a couple of marketing dorks arrive and start spouting nonsense. It soils the whole thing a bit.