- LONDON (Reuters) - The English
language is being destroyed by a "deadly virus of management speak"
which has infected the mouths and minds of politicians like Tony Blair
and George W. Bush, a leading UK journalist said Monday.
- The British Prime Minister and his ally the U.S. President
are mangling the language, destroying its meaning by avoiding the use of
verbs, twisting nouns into verbs, and endlessly repeating phrases until
they become "zombified."
- "It's deeply depressing," says John Humphrys,
one of Britain's leading political journalists and the author of a new
book, "Lost for Words," about the demise of the language.
- Humphys' book laments the growth of "cliched, dumbed-down,
inflated and bogus management-speak" which he says now passes for
- In particular he criticizes political leaders for being
sucked into using meaningless phrases and hackneyed mantras to disguise
policies or protect themselves from accountability.
- Humphrys has been a journalist for 45 years and in his
current post as a presenter on BBC radio's news and current affairs program
"Today," he regularly interviews world leaders.
- "The whole essence of a good lively democracy is
that one has good lively argument," he told Reuters in an interview.
"But this kind of language kills real debate."
- "And nobody is prepared to stand up and say: 'what
does that mean?' because the assumption is made that if you don't know
what it means then there is something wrong with you."
- MASTER OF MANIPULATION
- Humphrys says the original culprits in the destruction
of English are "business gurus who are trying to sell their own particular
theories and have invented their own ridiculous phrases and vocabulary
to accompany those theories."
- But for him the more sinister development is that such
language has taken root in political discourse.
- Humphrys picks on Bush -- who once famously used the
word "misunderestimate" -- and pokes fun at him as someone who
"often speaks as though English were his second language."
- He also labels the U.S. leader a "master of the
language of political manipulation" and accuses him of sweeping aside
all the nuances of notions like freedom, truth and democracy and instead
firing the words out like "dum-dum bullets."
- "Repetition has taken them beyond cliche,"
Humphrys writes. "They have become zombified words whose meaning is
no longer the point."
- FEAR OF VERBS
- Blair, too, is singled out as a king of language corruption.
- Humphrys notes Blair's apparent fear of verbs and mocks
his speeches, which are peppered with verbless phrases like "new challenges,
new ideas," or "for our young people, a brighter future"
and "the age of achievement, at home and abroad."
- By using this technique, Humphrys says, Blair is simply
- "The point about verbs is that they commit the speaker,"
he writes. "Verbs cement sentences to their meaning so it's not surprising
that politicians tend to mistrust them."
- Humphrys also blames institutions like the European Union
and the world's media for the decline in standards of English.
- He laments the inclusion of such words as "pertannually"
in the proposed EU constitution -- and despairs that when concerns were
raised, the word was replaced with "insubdurience."
- He urges the public, and journalists in particular, to
reject meaningless phrases and to demand they are explained.
- "When you get enough people pointing it out, the
public starts to spot what is going on," he says. "That's why
the battle has to be fought."
- "We should expect -- and should demand -- that when
people are setting out policies or trying to persuade us of something,
they engage in proper debate and don't simply give us a set of unchangeable