Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Grassroots Jargon

Some banned jarg. Not hating on the idea, but the BBC coverage is instructively casual. Etymology and pragmatics are neglected. Here's a direct quote: "Free marketeers get away with fraud = three muskateers get away with Freud or whatever. J/K! J/K! OMG British public, yaw so serious!"

Semantics is conflated with synonymy. Useage is viewed as self-evident, vaguely Heavenly, and a dependable indicator of synonymy. That is, if the Citizen (formally envisioned as the thesaurus's executor, "Couldn't you have just said" with some scone scum ever smudged on his curmudgeonly lips) does not know a lexical item, or cannot remember it just this minute, its meaning must be that of a lexical item he does know and can recall. I guess a word like localities, (with its pompous differentiation to which no nuance seems ever wants to stick, and no reliable context ever wants to gather) is an example of the kind of thing the article invites us to think all the words are.

Kinda reminds me of spelling bees on ESPN: language gets laid out along a single dimension between normalness (where the words are useful and sensible and their meanings distinctly lit) and superhardpointlessness (where the words are smudged and esoteric and luxuriant and only spoken by a class of tolerated pathological eccentrics).

The proscribed list is an intimidating mix of snoozing illocutionary acts, a dazzling paparazzi bitch-snap of neologism, buzzword, cliché, padding, pseudo-qualifier (i.e. roughly analogous with Karl Popper's pseudoscience), euphemism, cacophemism, eyesore, stylistic vice, scapegoat, collocation, place-holder, hesitation, tergiversation, equivocation, malapropism, hype, technicity, magic, expertise, shoptalk, fustian, slang, shibboleth, colloquialism, polite fiction, de copia, decorum, rubric and liturgy.

It might think it's all for the expulsion of corporatese from the public sphere, but it's not -- if by corporatese you mean "the ways in which corporations use language." This is because corporations put themselves under just these kinds of bans (see note 2). What's great about it isn't its rationale of "effective communication," which is the suit's rationale too, but the desirous politics of it, the desire to sound less like suits, and maybe to think and act less like them too. There are exemplary fallacies and fuck-ups of policymaking which underlie this list -- surely, which underlie the appearance of "customer" on it?

Note 1: Jeremy Prynne was me-boning the want of much graceful study of, like, the sociotechnicity of euphemism, at the last of his Sussex Sexminar series last week, though nobody quite knew whether he meant euphemism as a euphemism for sex or for poetry.

Note 2:
The list in question could have been lifted from a "Words To Avoid" chapter of any introduction to business English, or of the style guides of a fair few large companies. So how are such terms sustained within corporations? Members of class fractions, and moments of roles in processes, address one-another with them whenever they think they ought to. A prohibitive list intervenes in this system in a polemical, not a totalising manner. E.g. (a) in a first draft, harried Junior slaps some truly stinking bit of doublespeak down in the middle of a sentence, the rest of which has been copy & pasted from an e-mail and is in a chatty style. When Junior presents her cringing efforts to Senior, Senior sees "to do: perfect the tone" rather than "Junior has not created the slide I told her to create." (b) Eternal Junior (let's say a secretary of some age) uses quaint and circumlocutious bombast whenever she is writing a bitter e-mail to Human Resources. It functions like tear-smudges, indicating the depth of her communion with her bottomless sadness and rage.


Note 3: The kinds of jargon which this cup of tea is interested in, obv., are vigilante & grassroots jargons: paranoid infant lexical items on the cusp of achieving systematic nuance.

Note 4: Cascading, challenge, collaboration, democratic legitimacy, democratic mandate, exemplar, flex, guidelines, paradigm, priority, symposium, toolkit, thematic are lexical units I would be a bit surprised to see confiscated, but fair enough, call it Oulipou. Incentivise resembles encourage and paradigm resembles approach or stance; presumably these often feature as very slight malapropisms. Pooled risk, upstream and value add ("orgiastic dissolution of the boundaries of decency in insects") each to my ear have a good attachment to a very distinct concept.

Note 5: I guess there are probably periodic purges in discourses particularly prone to neologism ...?

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