[Note: This relatively brief post is almost a decade old, and it remains one of my favorites. Back in the Fall of 2012, as I was reading our daily paper, I ran across a couple of items that got my dander up: the first was a quote from a bank official offering the company’s line on an increase in their ATM fee; the second was an advertisement for a newly-opened “memorial park.” The blog post that resulted from this encounter with what I call “business-speak” helped launch me into the airy realm of [occasional] “cultural criticism.”]
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Once upon a time, I wanted to teach English, and, though things didn’t work out that way, I’ve maintained a love affair with the language. Nothing gets me hotter under the collar faster than writing that is sloppy, imprecise, deceptive, or unclear–for example, those well-worn, cliche-filled statements issued every couple of months by the public relations “flacks” retained by Big Oil to “explain” the unexplainable, the “reasons” for the latest rise in the price of gas, to American consumers. However, many drivers understand all too well what’s going on–the motoring public is being asked, once again, collectively to lie on their backs and think of England.
Well, this morning’s AJC (the local fish wrapper) contained a two-fer in this category of assaulting the intelligence of the American public in pursuit of higher profits:
First, from a story in the Business section headlined “Atlanta high for ATM, overdraft fees,” we find this gem of mindless volubility from a spokesman for a local bank, um, “explaining” his employer’s recent decision to increase the fee for a customer’s first overdraft from $25 to $36: “We are constantly evaluating our product mix and making price adjustments as necessary based on numerous factors including our cost of doing business and the competitive marketplace, balanced with meeting the needs of our clients.” Translation: “Why do we screw the banking public at every opportunity? Because we can. . . .”
The second example of murdering the language in the service of capitalism comes from an ad by a local “memorial park” announcing, in language reeking of what I’ll call “precious-ness,” a new “development”: “a private community area with a botanical garden feel. A custom pavilion surrounded by immaculate landscaping is the focal point of this upscale garden and includes options for cremation, traditional burial and private family areas. Each traditional burial space is inclusive of the necessary outer burial containers and a custom designed granite memorial to minimize the decision making process.” I don’t know about you, but, after reading that, I can hardly wait to go to my reward, especially since these wonderful folks have done their darndest “to minimize the decision making process.”
As more than one observer has noted, you can’t make this stuff up, or, if you did, it wouldn’t be nearly as smarmy as the real thing.
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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject: