The eternal Monday of the working weekend

I think I’ve mentioned before that I seem to be the last person in the British Diaspora who doesn’t say “absolutely” when he means “yes”. Well, it’s getting worse: “Linguish” is fast taking over whatever was left of English that had not already been destroyed by Essex “chavisms”. I’d like to think that at least a small but vocal minority of the London rioters were looting and pillaging in the cause of saving the English language from “laters” and “innit”, but I doubt it somehow. This is a lost cause.

Wales is welsh, but how Welsh is Wales?

The cause is so completely lost that the BBC, once a bulwark of Oxford tonality, now communicates in tweets and bites and blogs and emails full of typos. They have also adopted, from their highly-principled tabloid colleagues no doubt, those irritating “sporty-speak” references to international events without using national descriptors. One no longer reads of an “Iraqi” oilfield burning, a “Pakistani” bombing, a “French” connection or a “Canadian” diplomat: Iraq oilfield, Pakistan bombing, France connection and Canada diplomat have taken over as cleanly as a Spain mid-fielder or a Germany fly-half. There are exceptions, Afghan is still used, also Dutch: the former because it’s much shorter, the latter because they don’t like it.

A BBC staffer kindly wrote that she likes the Dickensian feel of Drood, while another enjoyed my “curious” style. I think they both meant that I write in English. One reader even told me that I would not be understood by most Americans, as if that were a worthy goal, while another mentioned that he reads my column with a dictionary and is grateful for the cerebral exercise it affords him. I’m flattered, of course, but it’s not as if I were tossing off words like “anent”, “maudlin”, “consuent”, “antediluvian”, “tumescent”, “malefic” or “segue”… at least not often. The language I use is for the most part plain, pithy and even up to date. I would describe it as “contemporary with Edwardian highlights”. I certainly try to avoid intrusive lingo, unless it’s for the sake of “fussing up” a bit of atmosphere, as Mark Twain would put it.

Outside the box, but still inside the office

One of the most offensive aspects of new-speak is the way the workplace, with its horrid, upbeat slogans has gone mainstream. “Going forward”, “pushing the envelope”, “staying in the loop”: we now do all these things on a daily basis, even outside the office. Indeed, many of us do them even though we’ve never seen the inside of an office. Some of us have started to “leverage” the housework, “finesse” the tax returns, “flex-in” our weekend commitments, “outsource” the children, “keep on the page” at traffic lights and supermarkets, “hum along” with other people’s dumb ideas and even to “shift our paradigm” every now and then (which, to paraphrase Bob Lewis, means not having a clue as to what you’ve been doing all these years, or why your life has been a failure so far, but planning to get it wrong in entirely new ways in future). There is nothing inherently bad about office language. Most of these expressions, if applied sparingly and with imagination, are colourful, informative, even useful in their brevity. Everyone knows immediately what is meant by “blame-storming” and we’ve all experienced the occasional, or all-too-frequent, “salmon day”, which the Urban Dictionary describes as spending a whole day swimming against the flow only to get screwed and die at the end. No, the malignancy of this kind of language is the way it colonizes the non-working world, putting everyone who isn’t privileged enough to be in permanent, five-digit employment outside the clubhouse, even outside the perimeter fence. It is the sort of neo-colonialism that imposes the values, codes and doubtful ethics of one small group (those in the white-collar workplace) on all the rest of humanity, while denying them any real stake or return.

Following on the heels of the already completed invasion by ubiquitous office technology (smart phones and Wi-Fi-facilitated notebooks) into everyone else’s quiet cove, lakeside idyll or mountain retreat, management-speak now seeks to impress the very cadences of the working week on the easy-living language of weekends and holidays. Are we never to be free of our employers? Must we let them “empower’ us with shimmering pieces of seductive equipment which, far from being a privilege, are nothing more than shackles of platinum, a way to ensure that we never really leave our desk? And are we then, from the depths of our slavery, so servile as to seek the approbation of less-networked species as we trot out our latest gems of cube-farm lingo in a jingoistic attempt to improve troop morale in the face of yet another wet Sunday barbecue? You may be a better man than I am, Gunga Din, but I’ve got the key to the executive men’s room … and it’s on the tip of my tongue.

Edwin Drood

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