Ducks in a Row: an A-Z of Offlish

7th October 2005 at 01:00
Ducks in a Row: an A-Z of Offlish By Carl Newbrook Short Books pound;9.99

It sounds like a good wheeze: write a book about "Offlish", call it "the definitive guide to office English", describe it as a "a humorous dictionary" on the jacket, then sit back and wait for the royalties to pour in. Unfortunately, this volume lacks one important ingredient for a humorous book: it's not funny.

As a dictionary with a lighter touch than most, it is fairly comprehensive, with more than 200 pages of alphabetically ordered definitions and management cliches and an index. Each entry has a short definition and an example of usage: " 'Cock-up', noun, a muddle; occasionally a personal error, but more often the result of two or more people acting together; usage, embittered managers who know they could do better... 'It was a right cock-up because of that clown'." Er, yes.

The author seems to have been influenced by those primary literacy hour activities where every noun has to have two qualifying adjectives, so an IT manager is described as "shy and introverted"; a sales manager is "fierce and muleish"; a human resources manager "dedicated and reserved"; a Californian manager "sincere and serious".

It is a neat idea competently executed, but the difficulty is that it is neither a necessary reference book, nor an engaging page by page read.

Throw it open at any point and one finds mainly self-evident terms and cliches. I doubt that many people in education, seeking a laugh about management-speak, will be attracted to a book labelled "humorous" that isn't.

Ted Wragg is emeritus professor of education at Exeter University

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