MARKETSPEAK A PLAGUE ON THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

We live in a fast-paced information economy. Knowledge workers hoping to incubate out-of-the-box synergies must transform bleeding-edge content to drive mission-critical networks. They need to cultivate strategic niches if they hope to repurpose scalable communities. Are you with me?

Hopefully not. I assembled the paragraph above with help from the “Web Economy Bullshit Generator,” a website that randomly combines verbs, adjectives and nouns into the semantic equivalent of Dr. Seuss animals: benign-looking but ridiculous constructions.

Given the plague of buzzterms in today’s marketing, business and policy circles, it’s no surprise that an “elite group of bank economists, most of them with graduate degrees,” recently received a D in English from the Bank of Canada.

According to a report in the Globe and Mail, the bank audited the writing of these big brains, who are on call by the Canadian government to determine the nation’s monetary policy. The audit concluded that the economists had “difficulties being succinct, grammatically correct, and prioritizing the data into useful information.” The bean counters’ problem with effective communication ran counter to a federal government policy that requires bureaucrats to speak plainly to the public. I applaud the feds’ directive, but the problem is structural. A great deal of economic and marketing language is devoted to fouling transparent prose with the heavy crude of claptrap.

Those of us who haven’t mastered the magic spells of high finance can’t expect to communicate with those who have: the postgraduate priesthood, their names displayed on diplomas in medieval-style fonts, who go on to fiddle with the nation’s financial organs like kids playing the surgical board game Operation.

These drivel-spewing Dementors fly from the ivory tower to banking boardrooms to legal departments and straight into your mailbox. In a 2004 PBS Frontline investigative report, former Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren described losing a struggle with the fine print of a credit card form.

“I’ve read my credit card agreement, and I can’t figure out the terms. I teach contract law, and the underlying premise of contract law is that the two parties to the contract understand what the terms are.”

Good luck with your next Apple computer licence agreement, Liz.

A similar carefully crafted confusion applies to global offshore banking. The world’s filthy rich have parked trillions of dollars in the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas and other tax havens. The fiendish complexity of the tax-structuring arrangements acts as a bar to any legislators seeking to untangle them.

Overcomplexity is often the bodyguard to secrecy, all courtesy of the best and brightest of the academic-financial-legal complex. Remember the WTF looks on the faces of American senator Carl Levin and other U.S. Congressunits when they interrogated the principals connected to the 2008 U.S. credit crisis? Whether they were possessed by genuine outrage or it was just Kabuki theatre on the Potomac, the legislators obviously didn’t have the mental tools to decode the Ponzi 2.0 schemes cooked up by Wall Street’s unreality-based community. Confronted with naked options and credit default swaps, they might as well have been housecats stuck in the ducts of the Large Hadron Collider.

(Speaking of the LHC, the discipline of theoretical physics is already so complex its practitioners have little need to complicate it further. So their lingo is populated with “quarks” possessing “charm” and “spin,” and mysterious “dark matter” blamed on “WIMPs.”)

By the way, no citation of the Globe and Mail can go without mentioning a recent letter to staffers from editor-in-chief John Stackhouse announcing his intention to target readers with a household income of $120,000 upwards. Canada’s national newspaper will undoubtedly speak, more than ever, in the dialect of the plutocracy’s managerial class.  The Globe is likely taking a marketing cue from the New York Times. If the paper’s resolutely high-end advertising is any indication, it has pretty much abandoned middle class readers. Tellingly, an emailed ad from the NYT promises a year’s subscription will allow me to “gain actionable intelligence in the areas of politics, business, technology and the arts.”

This sort of wonkspeak is Kryptonite to sensible communication and its enthusiasts are language-mangling Lex Luthors. As one anonymous poster to the Web Economy Bullshit Generator put it, “The Norman conquest served to enrich the English language, but the onslaught of business and academia threatens to diminish our language to the point where only vulgarities will have any f**king meaning.” Amen.

The Vancouver Courier, Nov. 7

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