Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Using utilisation

One symptom of encroaching totalitarianism is the deterioration of language. Orwell spoke about this in his essay of 1940, Inside the Whale. He related the decline of literature to the decline of freedom of thought, and the death of the individual.

But if you talk to someone who has been employed in the public sector for a while (and this applies especially to women) you notice that they have a strange way of talking. It's not just the words themselves (although it is certainly that), but the way they say them - and as we all know that's the main part of communication anyway.

They tend to have a somewhat humourless monotonous delivery, as though it's a mimicry of what is considered authoritative language. They will not use their hands to express or emote. Their tone will not go up and down, but remain steady. And make your eyes glaze over.

As for the words themselves, naturally political correctness has gutted the range of available vocabulary such that the speakers become almost parodies of themselves. Anything that may offend is off-limits, such that they end up butchering the language itself (which I find extremely offensive).

Then there's the Orwell test for plain English, which they fail. They will say "utilise" instead of "use". They will say in fifty words what could have been said in five.

I also can't help but think that those tired corporate clichés, such as "blue sky thinking", "thinking outside the box", are just that - a sign of corporatism, not of a free market. That is, it's a mimicry again, of how they think a real business would communicate with itself. If it weren't for the fact that the game is rigged and only MBAs, accountants and the credentialised lot can get ahead in these environments, then each business would have it's own character, it's own language, instead of the meaningless, homogeneous drivel you get in most workplaces today.

This struck me just after watching a contestant on some game show. I think it was The Weakest Link, which I generally despise but can't always avoid. And here was this woman, on a gameshow of all places, talking like a robot. She worked in some government department or another, seemed quite pleased with herself for it, and was clearly unable to step outside of that little cubicle she was ushered into long ago.

But we see it everywhere. The problem is, this language is insidiously creeping into everyday talk, such that we only have doubletalk and chavtalk, with little in between. As in 1984, it's the Party or the Proles. You can see this in the City, where the chat veers between the language of the trading floor, fuck this and fuck that, and the automatons of HR and Compliance. You see it on terrestrial TV, which veers between BBC drone and Channel 4 vulgarity - both equally shit. It's Question Time or Jeremy Kyle, choose your sides now.


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