I am sure most of us do not intentionally set out to muddy the waters through our poor communication. But many so-called digitally savvy communicators seem incapable of stopping themselves. You could say – borrowing from a well known saying – clutching muddle from the jaws of clarity.
- One digital example I’ve recently come across (though apparently it’s been around for several years) is ‘adulting.’ According to the Urban Dictionary it’s a verb meaning “to do grown up things and hold responsibilities such as a 9 to 5 job, a mortgage, a car payment or anything else that makes you think of grown ups.” I accept that it might conjure up all these things but isn’t it paradoxically peurile (“suited for children, trivial”)?
What is wrong with acting like an adult or becoming an adult? I accept that a younger text-speak generation might identify with it because it’s shorter and snappier than the alternative. But, leaving aside that adult is a noun and not a verb, it panders to a laziness of expression where increasingly “I’ll just add an -ing to the end of that word” is apparently what passes for acceptable communication or even good English. And everything else is ‘awesome’ – even when it clearly is not. So what do they say when something is actually incredible?
2. Do you remember the use of imagery in English classes at school? It referred to a form of visually descriptive or figurative language, especially in a literary work. For example, Tennyson used imagery to create a lyrical emotion. But I have noticed in the past year that it has taken on a new meaning in the world of public relations: “Let’s add some imagery to our website.” Was the intention to include a couplet from Tennyson? Somehow photographs or images have morphed into imagery. Is this an attempt to make our jobs more important or mysterious by inventing useless jargon? For me, it doesn’t contribute any clarity to our communications – just confusion..
3. Similarly, collateral (“security pledged by the payment of a loan”) became a very questionable term used by the US military during the first Gulf War to ambivalently refer to human casualties. Some definite spin going on there. The term has morphed again in public relations circles to mean on or off-line written material to support communication campaigns. Now, the term ‘asset’ (again, stolen from the world of banking) seems to be inter-changeable for collateral. We used to talk about leaflets or brochures which was clear, unequivocal and precise.
We will all have different views about the suitability or otherwise of these words – often depending on our age and/or background – but let’s not lose sight of the fact that getting our message across clearly and succinctly to our audience should be our one common objective. No matter what our age, background or profession. Mystification has no positive part to play in this process.
You must have many more examples of such mangling of the English language? I would love to hear them.
(*Obfuscation means to make obscure, unclear or unintelligible, blur, muddle, jumble, garble or muddy)