I love language and am constantly impressed with the ways humans are able to communicate. Whether it is the simplest expression of need or desire to the most complicated concepts and abstractions, we all manage to convey our wants, ideas, opinions, fears and aspirations. Most of the time.
But too often language goes much farther than these simple goals. It can be a tool for persuasion, inclusion, exclusion and obfuscation.
Although I often criticize what I call the misuse and abuse of language, I concede that lack of clarity and specificity doesn’t necessarily occlude understanding.
Imprecise grammar, limited vocabularies or mangled syntax may convey collateral information about a speaker, but they don’t necessarily impede comprehension.
Most grammarians and wordsmiths squirm when hearing a sentence like, “Me and her went to the dance.” The use of the objective case (me, her) instead of the nominative case (she, I) is considered substandard. Language purists would categorize such speech as unacceptable and would label the speaker as uneducated.
Yet it is clear that two people went to a dance no matter how you say it. The message was clearly conveyed. But this isn’t always true.
Ironically, some supposedly well-educated persons obscure meaning either intentionally or unintentionally. Buzzwords and bureaucratize are the most obvious examples. They are the linguistic equivalent of Gresham’s Law.
Any discussion about big business inevitably will contain arcane jargon used as much to impress people with the communicator’s purported intelligence as to obfuscate possible understanding. Of course, it’s all designed to “dynamically integrate revolutionary markets.”
Likewise, the financial community is replete with shoptalk that few understand—including some insiders. But if you want to sound savvy, highfalutin words are at your fingertips.
Medical practitioners risk an unhealthy career path if they don’t ingest the prescribed vocabulary.
Of course, no discussion of language would suffice without acknowledging the ubiquitous terms populating social media.
No journalists hope to make headlines unless they create clichés to replace perfectly adequate, clear language. I’ve discussed elsewhere those I find annoying.
During the financial bailout of President Obama’s first term, news organizations constantly referred to underwater mortgages, shuttered businesses, and toxic financial instruments.
None of these terms helps the non-financial news consumer clearly comprehend either the nature of the problem or its proposed solutions. They simply show fellow journalists that we are part of the in crowd. And that we are just as smart as the presumed intelligent and sophisticated newsmakers we cover.
Journalists, regrettably, seem more intent impressing their news sources than informing the public. It’s symptomatic of the smug elite liberalism that has infested too many newsrooms today.
I long for the day when we used simple words and short prose to explain complex matters. If Mark Twain valued simple language, then the rest of us should, too.