One of my favorite book-world resources, the daily e-mail newsletter Shelf Awareness, included the following bit of news in this morning’s issue:
‘Are those “brainstorms” or “thought showers” in your business meeting forecast? Apparently, the King’s English is now the preferred form of communication for British bureaucrats and buzz words are out. CNN
“Why do we have to have ‘coterminous, stakeholder engagement’ when we could just ‘talk to people’ instead?” asked Simon Milton, the association’s chairman.’ reported that the Local Government Association “sent out a list of 100 ‘non-words’ that it said officials should avoid if they want to be understood.” Among the offending terms are synergies, stakeholders, sustainable communities, empowerment, coterminosity and revenue stream.
That makes reason #5,673 why I love the British. First they stood up to Hitler; now they’re standing up to mindless misuse of the English language. The power of the English language is its flexibility: with little difficulty, it can absorb words from other languages, combine existing words to form new ones, make room for wholly original coinages.
So it’s not that I’m some language reactionary, demanding that no word be used unless Samuel Johnson used it. Shakespeare, after all, is credited with inventing some ridiculous percentage (like 30%) of modern English; and if Shakespeare did it, it’s OK by me.
But as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker before he became Spider-Man, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I hate seeing the language’s flexibility abused by the foisting upon us of flashy-sounding terms, dressing up simple ideas with gaudy constructions meant to dazzle, impose, or obscure.
Why do we need “signage” when we have “signs”? Why do we have “to partner”* with someone when we could “work with” them instead?
By all means, play with the language. Have fun. Knock yourself out. Better yet, knock your readers out (figuratively).
But, please, have some respect for the language of Shakespeare, Lincoln, and King.
* “Partner,” by the way, has a specific legal meaning that involves shared profits and liability (ah, there’s the rub). You don’t want to call someone you’re doing business with your “partner” unless you don’t mind joining them in any potential lawsuits.