Bully boys don't browse, they interrogate

21st November 2003 at 00:00
A word in your ear. Interrogate. OK, so you need a context. The word cropped up in a set of minutes, noting the action to be taken as "to interrogate the website". This is a new one on me. While those of us of a more namby-pamby nature simply browse the web, the go-getters, the tough ones who get going when the going gets tough, interrogate.

Literally, of course, to interrogate means to ask questions of, but there are connotations here of bully boy tactics: "I know you know. I've not got all day. Tell me now. Tell me and it'll be all over. We can have a cigarette, be friends again. But tell me NOW!"

My imagination conjures up an image of a trembling computer towered over by men in suits, playing good cop-bad cop, a light shining mercilessly into its poor little monitor.

It's management discourse, and suggests power, speed, someone being in control, asking specific questions, requiring specific answers and standing no nonsense whatsoever. Not for them perching on a stool in front of the computer, mug of coffee on the mouse mat, and the vague "let's have a look-see".

Browsing smacks too much of aimlessness, of whiling away an hour or so by checking out whether the Richersounds page still has that smashing pair of Wharfdales going cheap. And while you're browsing you may as well visit Netdoctor and check out that strange allergy your Aunty Jean has and, oh yes, have a quick look to see if you can get a villa in Spain that sleeps 13 for Christmas.

Management-speak is full of big boy words - and it's pervasive. We attack the market aggressively, we control, we infiltrate, penetrate and terminate. It encourages us to see the world in terms of conflict.

But a word in your ear can have powerful consequences. Words can send people off to war. Tim Collins's rallying speech to his troops managed to touch an old and ancient chord, insisting on a war that was just and right, and talking in a discourse of biblical intensity, of hellfire and stained souls. President Bush's discourse was contemporary, that of the Gunfight at the OK Corral, and the man in the white hat versus the man in the black hat.

Their words have entered the history books, along with other words which are much bigger than they sound - words like collateral damage, and final solution, words which in their time made war seem necessary or acceptable.

It's only words, the Bee Gees sang - but words are all we have. Language shapes our world. Neurolinguistic programming has shown that shaping our use of language, rewriting the script from which we operate, is a very powerful tool and can be much more successful, and faster, in changing undesirable behaviours than counselling.

Political correctness has tightened up the discourse we use in education.

We remove Enid Blyton from our tots' libraries, we encourage our primary children towards an inclusive world and teach our teenagers how to interpret and analyse mass media texts.

Strangely, we are not so hot on the dangers of management-speak (and we are all managers, of learners or of staff). Aggressive words creep in and create an aggressive world. Now is the time to fight this trend of bully boy language, attack it at its roots, and conquer the fear of our being labelled namby-pambies.

Are you with me or agin' me, troops?

Dr Carol Gow is a lecturer in media at Dundee College.

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