Reader Daniel Nitsche suggests checking out this lecture by Don Watson (MP4 file: 139MB / 41 minutes) on the absurdity of corporate speak.

There are some great points in there, sprinkled with humour.

  • Powerpoint is the ultimate in the depletion of English. It just doesn’t approve of sentences. It makes them into dot points.
  • On politicians: we’re now more interested in the questions being asked by the interviewer because we know the interviewee won’t answer the questions anyway.
  • On private organisation speak: “Dear Valued Customer”—would you write to your mother that way? (Dear Valued Mother).
  • The invention of a mission statement is too late. The worst companies in the world are using mission statements.
  • Fun example from the lecture: Someone wrote a letter to Watson’s 90 year old mother that began “Dear Applicant.” Unclear what it was all about, she passed the letter to him. He wound up responding with a letter that started “Dear Bureaucrat.”

    Here’s an interview with Watson.

    The language I think is poisoned, generally. And it’s poisoned in the name of efficiency for some strange reason. It’s as if the whole culture has been corporatised in one way or another. Does it really matter? Well I think it does. I think language is how we know each other. Speak that I may see thee.

    Therefore … I mean, If you talk like this to your friend down the pub you won’t see him there next week.

    Watson’s Weasel Words site collects awful yet funny examples of managerial language. Why Weasel Words?

    ‘In 1916 Theodore Roosevelt declared that the ‘tendency to use what have been called weasel words was “one of the defects of our nation”.’ ‘You can have universal training or you can have voluntary training, but when you use the word “voluntary” to qualify the word “universal”, you are using a weasel word,’ he said: ‘it has sucked all the meaning out of “universal”.’

    Words that suck all the meaning out. Good way to put it.

    It’s all a reminder to give anything you write a decent bullshit test before sending it out. Would you ever talk to your mother or your friend that way? If not, why is it ok to talk to a customer that way?