Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “diseased language”

Recurring issues

Tip of the day: if you can’t work out what to do to stop an issue from recurring, you probably haven’t found the root cause.

Someone posted that on Twitter recently.

Two issues that I find keep recurring are abortion and homosexuality.

Wherever I look in online forums people keep discussing them ad nauseam and ad bored-I-am.

American Evangelical Christians seem to be obsessed with the former, while Anglicans everywhere are obsessed with the latter.

And it is indeed quite probable that I have not found the root cause.

If anyone has found the root cause, please let me know.

Bloated job titles and other examples of diseased language

There’s an outfit called TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday, in case you didn’t know) that holds weekly Christian discussion meetings in the Seattle Coffee Shop Brooklyn Mall at 6:00 am on Fridays. I’ve been to a few of them when the topic has interested me, and I get the weekly notices of topics to see whether they may be of interest. This week’s notice had some comments on inflated job titles, which I thought were worth sharing:

Job title inflation: It started when the guy who fixed my washing machine introduced himself as the Maintenance Engineer, only to be trumped by the plumber who became a Drain Surgeon. Run-of-the-mill assistants are now Facilities Administrators, 1-person organisations are headed by CEOs or Presidents, and Churchianity has seen a few (self-appointed?) Apostles of Faith and Anointed Prophets. The herbalists whose pamphlets you get given at the traffic lights are all “Dr” or “Prof”, except for the one who promotes himself as “Almighty Healer, Spirit from the Mountain and the Head of all Healers Herbalists in Africa” (sic).

Job title stuffing has resulted in descriptors like Chief Executive Twitterer, Manager of Deep Web Research, Central Interactions Architect, Lifestyle Design Coach, Person-Centred Transition Facilitator, Global Troubleshooter, Head of Knowledge Creation, Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner, and Dynamic Paradigm Orchestrator. Soon, movers and shakers might become (respectively) Location Change Management Specialists and Arthymic Oscillation Technicians. [1]

While on the topic of language and usage, I also recently saw this on Facebook:

And while we were on holiday recently we stopped for lunch at Maxi’s Cafe in Bethal in Mpumalanga, and there we saw this sign.

I used to know that as the “greengrocer’s apostrophe”, but Maxi’s isn’t a greengrocer.

Oh well, at least I’m not seeing “a waist of time” as much as I used to see it online in the early 1990s, so some things are improving.

As the saying went in the early 1990s, “Put knot yore trussed inn spell chequers.”

Seth’s Blog: Solving problems (vs. identifying them)

Someone pointed me to this blog post: Seth’s Blog: Solving problems (vs. identifying them):

Often, we’re hesitant to identify a problem out of fear we can’t solve it. Knowing that we have to live with something that we’re unable to alter gives us a good reason to avoid verbalizing it–highlighting it just makes it worse.

While this sort of denial might be okay for individuals (emphasis on might), it’s a lousy approach for organizations of any size. That’s because there are almost certainly resources available that can solve a problem if you decide it’s truly worth solving.

In my experience, people opt for avoiding both identifying problems and solving them. Instead of doing either of those things, they simply “address” the problem.

Talk nicely to the problem and it will go away.

If that doesn’t work, then don’t call it a problem, call it an “issue”.

No problem.

EU bans claim that water can prevent dehydration

It has long been known that bureaucratic language is diseased language, and this is just one of the latest instances of it

EU bans claim that water can prevent dehydration – Telegraph

Brussels bureaucrats were ridiculed yesterday after banning drink manufacturers from claiming that water can prevent dehydration.

NHS health guidelines state clearly that drinking water helps avoid dehydration, and that Britons should drink at least 1.2 litres per day

EU officials concluded that, following a three-year investigation, there was no evidence to prove the previously undisputed fact.

Producers of bottled water are now forbidden by law from making the claim and will face a two-year jail sentence if they defy the edict, which comes into force in the UK next month.

Last night, critics claimed the EU was at odds with both science and common sense. Conservative MEP Roger Helmer said: “This is stupidity writ large.”

The actual text, from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which has been discussed in the alt.usage.english newsgroup is a true masterpiece of bureaucratic obfuscation, a classic example of bureaucratese.

For reduction of disease risk claims, the beneficial physiological effect (which the Regulation requires to be shown for the claim to be permitted) is the reduction (or beneficial alteration) of a risk factor for the development of a human disease (not reduction of the risk of disease). However, undersupply with water would not be considered as a risk factor for dehydration (the disease) in this context as the beneficial alteration of the factor (increased consumption of water) is not a beneficial physiological effect as required by the Regulation.

Can you make sense of that?

I can’t.

But the bigger danger, it seems to me, is that while we are straining at the gnat of bureaucratic jargon, we can overlook the camel of the privatisation of water implied in the term “drink manufacturers”.

The claim that I refuse to accept is not the one complained of by the bureaucrats. It is the claim that there are “drink manufacturers” who are in a position to make such claims in the first place.

The only “drinks manufacturer” I recognise in that sense is God, who makes rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike.

Atheists who reject that as naive “creationism” are, of course, free to disagree. Perhaps for them “drinks manufacturers” are a product random evolution. Viva Coca Cola! Viva! Viva capitalism! Viva!

Hijacking words: Urban Dictionary: Communitarianism

Having at one time been an editor of academic texts I am interested in words and meaning, and especially in the way words are sometimes used to obscure and confuse meaning rather than to communicate meaning. Words can sometimes be “hijacked” or “skunked”. They are hijacked when their meaning is twisted or perverted to mean something else. They are “skunked” when they are used by so many people to mean so many different things that you can never be sure what a person means by them unless they give a definition every time they use it. One example is “liberal” and “liberalism”, and that these words have been skunked can be clearly seen in the two preceding posts.

“Communitarian” and “communitarianism”, on the other hand, have apparently been hijacked, at least by some people. I’ve blogged about this before here and here.

Communitarianism is a fairly new word, but the concept was developed by Catholic anarchists like Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin and Ammon Hennessy to distinguish Christian anthropology from modernist secular anthropologies like individualism and collectivism. Even though there wasn’t a specific word for it, the concept has been around at least as long as Christianity has, and I’ve described it, with quotations from Orthodox theologians, in Love is the measure: Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker | Khanya.

I didn’t realise how bad it had got, however, until I read this: Urban Dictionary: Communitarianism:


buy communitarianism mugs, tshirts and magnets

n. The belief that a society is greater than the sum of its parts, and that the members of an organization ought to work toward improving the organization. Often accused to be ‘communist’ or ‘fascist’.

Communitarianism is perceived to be evil because it opposes the individualistic doctrine of our society.

I find it difficult to see how anyone could take such a “definition” seriously. For a start, “accused to be” is illiterate. The correct English idiom is “accused of being”, and “accused to be” is a solecism. Anyone who writes English that badly is not competent to write dictionary definitions.

The next problem is that we are not told the identity of those who make these accusations, nor are we told the identity of those who “perceive it to be evil”, nor are we told which society is meant by “our” society. But I think it is safe to assume that those who make the accusations and perceive communitarianism in this way are as ignorant as the writer of the definition.

My attention was drawn to this in a blog post by James Highham, whose blog I read fairly regularly, and find interesting, though I don’t always agree with everything he says, and in this instance, of course, I emphatically disagree.

nourishing obscurity : Four Great Lies:

The Fourth Lie – the “third way” – is an attempt to bring people in by the back door to the dark side of the duality and it utilizes the First Lie to good effect. Thus we get “communitarianism”, perverting the concept of local community and having a vast number of federalist controlled local communities, each under the influence and rubber stamping power of a Common Purpose graduate. Leading beyond authority, i.e. assuming powers which are not yours to assume and being answerable only to the oligarchy in the centre.

The thought of Dorothy Day being part of an “oligarchy at the centre” really is too much.

The future is fidgetal

A couple of years ago an advertising hoarding along the freeway informed us that “Blackberry is here”. I wondered for a while if it was the next step up from Bluetooth, but it turned out that it was something else.

As the BBC News – The future is fidgetal notes:

Technology, and the hype that surrounds it, is changing the way we speak. But we don’t have to turn into drones, all spouting the latest i-word. Chris Bowlby says it’s time for the techno-bullied to fight back with their own subversive speak.

With the online Oxford English Dictionary recently re-launched and on the look-out for new language, maybe it’s time for a counter-revolution.

Here are some of the BBC’s suggestions:

BBC News – The future is fidgetal:

High time that changed. Here, as a start, are a few of my suggestions, with definitions to try and get them into all those new dictionaries.

  • Fidgetal – modern technology whose primary purpose is to give people something to do with their fingers (closely related to the decline of smoking)
  • MisApp – something going terribly wrong due to over reliance on latest Phone gizmo
  • Wikisqueak – sound emitted by diplomat who realises she’s sent confidential telegram without proper encryption
  • Dreadsheet – spreadsheet containing very bad financial news
  • Disgracebook – social networking site advertising user’s embarrassing past
  • Mobile drone – lover of interminable tedious and public phone conversations
  • Sin card – alternative device to fit in mobile for immoral communication
  • Powerpointless – universal feeling in room at end of hi-tech executive presentation of negligible value
  • Skypeochondria – queasy feeling brought on by obsessive fear of being offline
  • Scroogele – search engine for people trying to find cheapest online gifts

Other contributions are welcome.

Otherwise, in the fidgetal future, any memory of pre-tech language will have been wiped or corrupted.

Any more?

Worsened words

I took down my copy of Fowler’s Modern English Usage this morning to check on something and my eye lit on the article on Worsened words.

Changes in the meaning of words, and still more in their emotional content, often reflect changes of opinion about the value of what they stand for. Occasionally a pejorative word becomes commendatory — Baroque and Prestige, for example — but more often it is the other way round.

Fowler gives several examples of such worsened words — imperialism and colonialism were in much more favour a century ago than they are today. But as Fowler points out, this is because the things they stand for are less in favour. The words have not changed their meaning.

Other words do seem to have changed their meaning since the Second World War, or at least seem to be thought of mainly in the light of bad examples, such as appeasement and collaborator. One that has suffered an almost complete change of meaning is propaganda.

A word that seems to be in danger of developing a purely bad meaning, especially in America, is epithet. Yet when we speak of “Jesus Christ”, “Christ” is in fact an epithet. Perhap it is because this particular epithet is so often used as an expression of annoyance that all epithets have been given a bad name.

And soon after reading and reflecting on this, I received the following e-mail, which gave another example of a worsening word:

We at recently came across your blog and were excited to share with you an article “10 Signs You’re in a Cult was recently published on our blog at ( ), and we hoped that you would be interested in featuring or mentioning it in one of your posts. If you find something interesting or similar, please let me know.

Well, I’ve mentioned it in my blog, but I have grave reservations about the misuse of the word “cult” as if it always and only means something bad.

The primary meaning of “cult” is a specific system of religious worship, and I see nothing intrinsically wrong with worshipping God.

But perhaps I’m just rather old-fashioned that way.

When I bought Fowler’s Modern English Usage I got the revised edition, brought up-to-date by Sir Ernest Gowers. But I look on the fly-leaf and see the date when I bought it — 23 December 1970 — nearly 40 years ago.

Putt knot yore trussed in spell chequers

I have often encountered problems with computer spelling checkers, but I didn’t know that there was an actual name for it. Hat-tip to Adrian Bailey of Idiot English: Cupertino/eggcorn of the week who pointed me to Cupertino effect – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

The Cupertino effect is the tendency of a spellchecker to suggest inappropriate words to replace misspelled words and words not in its dictionary.

The origin of the term is that the spelling ‘cooperation’ was often changed to ‘Cupertino’ by older spellcheckers with dictionaries containing only the hyphenated form ‘co-operation’. (Cupertino is the home of Apple Inc., and thus would be in most computer spelling dictionaries.) Users sometimes clicked ‘Change All’ without checking whether the spellchecker’s first suggestion was correct to begin with, resulting in even official documents with phrases like ‘as well as valuable experience in international Cupertino’ and ‘and reinforcing bilateral and multinational Cupertino and assistance actions.’ Other examples include ‘South Asian Association for Regional Cupertino’ and ‘presentation on African-German Cupertino.’

It gives a name to something that I’ve experienced several times. One was a book published by the Orthodox Archdiocese of Johannesburg and Pretoria, written by one of the priests, which had an entire chapter on the novel theological concept of the Divine Lethargy. I saw it in the table of contents, and turned to the chapter concerned to discover more, and it turned out that it was supposed to be “the Divine Liturgy”, but the entire book was full of Cupertinos like this, and so was utterly useless. It seemed to have been done by the initiative of the printers, but no one had bothered to proof-read it.

Another one that affected me was a contribution I wrote for a book:
Initiation into Theology: The Rich Variety of Theology and HermeneuticsInitiation into Theology: The Rich Variety of Theology and Hermeneutics by Adrio Konig

Some one quoted something from my chapter in the book in an article, which they then sent to me, and I could not recognise it as anything I had written, or would have written. I then looked at the published book, and found that my contribution had been mangled by the Cupertino effect, applied in the interests of political correctness.

When I wrote my contribution, on the theology of African Independent Churches, the editor of the book, Professor Adrio König, of the Department of Systematic Theology and Ethics at the University of South Africa, called me several times to check the spelling of a word or the wording of a phrase in my article. I was impressed by his thoroughness, and was sure that this would be one publication in which there would be few or no errors. One of the things he asked me about was my use of the term “African Independent Churches”, and he said that the tendency nowadays was to use the term “African Initiated Churches“. I agreed with him that there was such a tendency, but pointed out that the terms were not interchangeable, and that they meant different things, and that in the article I used them to mean different things though the commonly-used abbreviation AIC could be applied to both, and also to the related terms African Indigenous Churches and African Instituted Churches.

Though he seemed doubtful, he appeared to accept my argument, but when the book was published, it seemed that he had run a spelling check, and substituted “Initiated” for “Independent” wherever it had occurred, including the titles of four books and articles in the bibliography. In some contexts in the article, this changed word turned the sentences in which they occurred into meaningless garbage, so I do not acknowledge that I wrote the contribution to the book, and would not include it in my CV. The contrast with the thoroughness with which he had checked for accuracy before publication was marked, and it amazed me that he was willing to throw all that work away by rashly letting a spelling checker make word salad of the book.

Another observation: why are they called spellcheckers? Witches might find spell checkers useful, but writers and publishers would prefer prefer spelling checkers. Perhaps that’s why they’ve put a hex on so many publications.

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