When I was a student and green in judgement, I thought, foolishly, that the purpose of language is to communicate meaning. I was wrong. That’s part of it, certainly, but it has many other purposes as well.
Language, and the way we use it, is a social indicator. People who have a shared purpose, or come from the same social class, usually have a shared language. Recently I read an interview with the head of a new academy in London. He said that mid morning break would cease, and lessons would run straight through till lunchtime.The interviewer asked him how children could get a drink mid morning, and his reply was ” Pupils will be able to self-hydrate during the teaching process” which means, in English that the kids could have a swig of juice during double maths. What he was really saying was ” Education is a complex process, with its own language, which is far too complex for snotty journalists to understand.” He was using language as a barrier, not a gateway.
Sometimes jargon starts as an imaginative use of language and ends in a cliche. How about “level playing field”- as opposed to those sixty degree playing fields where the players have to rope themselves together before taking a kick. Or ” across the piste`” which takes you to blue skies and crisp snow and away from deciding which internet provider you will choose. Or what about “roll out” as in ” the roll-out of a new government initiative” – do you know where it comes from ? The aviation industry. It refers to rolling the latest superjumbo out of the hangar. Well..maybe it was a bit clever once…but now..it’s a mega cliche.
But the worst kind of jargon is the stuff which is just gobbledygook. When Theresa May says ” I am clear” – which she does every five minutes – it means nothing. If it means anything at all, it means ” I know” – and if you do know, why do you have to tell everyone about it ?
“Going forward” – need I say more. It is a waste of breath, a mouth filler which gives you time to find out what you want to say next.
But the one which really bugs me is “unacceptable” – it’s a mean, weaselly, milk-and-water word. A magistrate who says ” Your behaviour his unacceptable” to the crim in the dock is dodging the moral element. If he belted an old lady over the head it’s not just unacceptable, it’s downright wrong.
It is time for my lunch. I shall self-hydrate during the eating process and watch the tv news which will update me on the latest roll-outs across the piste. I am clear about this.