Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Book review : John Humphrys : Lost for Words. The Mangling and Manipulation of the English Language

Mr. H. is a central part of the Today program on Radio 4 and I have a theory that if it was a legal requirement for the interview of any political figure to be proceeded by a warm up of 10 minutes of Humphrys shouting in the left ear and Paxman shouting in the right ear, to answer the bloody question, we would get either a few more loopy politicians, but at least they would answer the question that was asked, rather than an witter on about fluff from their belly button (management speak).

Lost for Words is a tour of the way the English Language can be misused by elected representatives, sales and marketing types, academics and public servants with an agenda to protect and promote. He has a very rich set of past experiences to draw on over his 35 years as a broadcaster and indeed has been quite successful at being either feared or hated in many political quarters. What an epitaph.

I am not a language pedant, not can I claim a great mastery of the written language, but I would like to do better and in my daily battle against cognitive bias understanding how other people use and abuse language and how I might be clearer myself is very valuable. I mentioned a few posts ago that this book got me thinking about self esteem and the role it presence and absence plays in my motivations.

At the end of the book, there is a section which sums up very well why this book is worth reading

The best defense against manipulators is to know what is going on. That is why we should demand that people in power use clear, simple English [or Welsh] instead of cliched, dumped-down, inflated and bogus management-speak that so often passes for English today.

I won't be writing to Radio 4 when I hear “to boldly go where no man has gone before” and its infinitive splitting, but I will be taking more of an interest in the language I hear from all quarters and rather more confrontative.

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