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Notes from a Western Life
Ranging Far and Wide on the High Plains and Beyond
Linda M. Hasselstrom's Blog

Death Sentences by Don Watson

. . .
I just discovered a book that I highly recommend to folks like me who cringe at the language of politicians, daily newspapers, radio announcers and others.

Death Sentences: How Clichés, Weasel Words, and Management-Speak Are Strangling Public Language by Don Watson. (Gotham Books: 2005.)

If I deface a war memorial or rampage through St. Paul’s with a sledgehammer I will be locked up as a criminal or lunatic. I can expect the same treatment if I release some noxious weed or insect into the natural environment. It is right that the culture and environment should be so respected. Yet every day our leaders vandalize the language, which is the foundation, the frame, and joinery of the culture, if not its greatest glory, and there is no penalty and no way to impose one. We can only be indignant. And we should resist.


Here’s another significant statement:

Wherever demagogues and bullies went, there also went obfuscation, pomposity, and doublespeak. . . . Civilized society depends on the exercise of common sense, which depends upon our saying what we mean clearly enough for everyone of reasonable intelligence to understand. The political point follows from the general one Ben Jonson made. ‘Language springs out of the most retired and inmost parts of us, and is the image of the parent of it, the mind. No glass renders a man’s form and likeness so true as his speech.’

Democracy depends upon plain language. It depends upon common understanding. We need to feel safe in the assumption that words mean what they are commonly understood to mean. Deliberate ambiguities, slides of meaning, and obscure, incomprehensible, or meaningless words poison the democratic process by leaving people less able to make informed or rational decisions. They erode trust.” (p. 120)


Don Watson, who is Australian, goes on:

That is why we should not vote for any politician who says, for instance, there are no quick fixes more than three times a year. Punish her for banality and the contempt for us that it implies.” (p. 137)


And he adds a glossary of words and phrases that should be banned from our language. The list includes (but is not limited to) the following:

Action/actioned/actioning, bottom line, closure, commit/committed/commitment, core, customer, deliver/deliverable, empower/empowered/empowerment, enhance (and all its forms), event, going forward, hopefully, impact, implement, input, in terms of, issue, outcome, point in time, prioritize, product, scenario, strategic in any form, and workshop.

Thank you, Don Watson.

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