A sad case

19th September 1997 at 01:00
I'm still "on the case", now into my fifth annual attempt to "litmus test" the "movers and shakers" of the new illiteracy, the relentless "dumbing down" of the language. So let's "tap in" once more to some linguistic abuse.

"First up", the business world inevitably contributes some ridiculous constructions and metaphorical rubbish. My bank manager set the tone when he referred to his assistant as "Tracy, who is riding shotgun with me". This was before we had discussed how we would "strategise" my affairs. Once this kind of dialogue "kicks in", you soon get to the "bottom line" and begin to feel that your "prospectives are zeroing". At least we did not have to "re-agenda".

Academics are laziest of all, making up words at will. If you are "in the loop", you will talk about the "intrications" of an argument, fiddle about with plurals and singulars as in a "politic" of despair, or use absurdities like "manumatic" as an antonym for automatic. The dreadful "counter hegemonic marginal spaces" I heard used in a lecture, presumably referred to something naughty behind the bike sheds. These liberties are all taken with the blatant bravura of Ron Manager on The Fast Show. "Uncategorizable. Is that a word? Well it is now."

Our speech has been increasingly "outsourced" to Hollywood. We "back-flash" rather than reminisce. Once films have been "green-lighted", they no longer have commentaries but are "voiced". Their plots "cliff-edge" the audience and if successful go "stratospheric" after "spray fire" publicity.

Those of us who work in education are still made to feel trapped in the kind of Posy Simmonds cartoon in which somebody says: "The course is based on a modular network basis, underpinned by a negative choice system of option taking. " This is too near the knuckle when we are no longer allowed to take an interest in our students but are encouraged to "track" them before dealing with them in a "one on one situation" and then "cascading" to our colleagues. It isn't all mirth-making fun, mind you, when some bright spark can use the offensive "academic cleansing" as a euphemism to describe those schools seduced into selection.

The problem becomes "major" when people can talk about "distressed cargo" to mean objects left unclaimed at a port. Getting anthropomorphic about suitcases is taking things too far.

STEPHEN THOMAS

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