Wednesday, August 23, 2017

I no longer understand.

I am fast coming to the conclusion that I no-longer share a language with many of the people around me. In fact, in many meetings I take a sheet of paper (remember paper?) and start marking down words people use that I don’t know the meaning of. Or, better, words that are so over-used, so vague, so pretentious, that they have no meaning altogether.

In my darkest moments I wonder if many people have lost the understanding what language, written, visual and spoken, is supposed to do in the first place. It seems that many of us are trading in a language that obfuscates rather than communicates.

That’s a roundabout way of saying in about half the meetings I sit in, I don’t understand what’s going on, because I don’t understand the meaning of the language being used.

Let’s take a look at a term so simple and ubiquitous that you probably don’t even notice when it is used: nurture email.

I heard that phrase yesterday and all of a sudden, galloped off thinking about it. Let’s see, I said to myself, email’s been around for 20 years. If I’ve gotten 100 emails a day every day for 20 years, I’ve received 730,000 emails in my life.

It’s safe to assume that some of those emails were nurturing, but, and perhaps this is due to my horrid childhood, I’ve never felt nurtured.

I wonder if the same loose-lipped bullshit that allowed Dick Cheney’s CIA to call torture “enhanced interrogation,” allows us to call junk-mail (itself a euphemism for, simply, junk) nurture emails.

Mind you, I am not picking on email here. What appalls me is our sloppy, meaningless use of language.

I’ve never leaned forward.

I’ve never dwelt in an ecosystem.

I’ve never been on a customer-journey.

I don’t know what agile means, or robust, or hundreds of other terms that are so widely used mean.

If you have any interest at all in good, clear communication, I would ask you to read writing that is good and clear to see the difference. Pick-up something by MFK Fisher, or AJ Liebling, or, Updike, or Roger Angel, or my Twin Peaks of good writing, Joseph Mitchell and Robert A. Caro.

There is a precision in their work, weight, distinction and meaning. Clarity.

You might be tired of me banging this drum, but to bastardize Con Ed's old mantra of "Dig We Must". I believe that Orwell's "Politics and the English Language," (here) should be read three times a year by everyone who makes their living with words. It might not be the worst idea to clip out his six rules and post them by your keyboard.

I may very well be the oldest extant copywriter in New York. Working to be a clear writer has, I believe, kept me active.

Which is better than inactive.


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