As I write, yet again, to sigh deeply and sadly over examples of the abuses to which our language is put, I’m aware that I was recently guilty of the sort of thing for which I condemn others. I wrote a wee Facebook status comment about my website and only one of my friends took the trouble to point out that, instead of the correct ‘no fewer than 159 people’ I’d written ‘no less than 159 people’. Thus, I no longer have the right to pontificate about such matters. (But I will, nonetheless.)
It’s because I come across them so constantly in materials sent to me by companies wanting to commission scripts about training or safety or promotions. Not only that, as an ex-academic, my tolerance levels have been sorely tested by some of the jargon in learned articles whose authors are supposed to be highly articulate and literate.
The most recent commercial example was in a document sent to me asking for ideas on a specific training programme. I won’t name the creators of the document but it was written in the type of English that has become prevalent under successive governments in the
. Here’s a
“The materials for each module will directly relate to and be interspersed with web-based exercises or reflective interaction. Therefore, it is envisaged that a mini-series of visual materials will be used to enhance each module. The voiceovers or visual materials with each visual subsection will prompt the viewer to undertake the web-based components and acknowledge their return to the next instalment of the visual material. Reference to the correct web-based section will be used to create an overall impression of a journey through the module.”
They sent me three pages of this (although the full document apparently ran to thirty-two pages).
Another favourite that I trot out very frequently is one about the manufacturer who wanted a promotional brochure about a new product (I’ll call it Acmeclad). I’m not an engineer so I needed a layperson’s explanation of what the product actually was. I sent an email asking precisely that. Here’s the answer I got back:
"Acmeclad is of a monocoque construction comprising a polymeric textile reinforcement encapsulated within a neoprene outer layer complete with integral neoprene strakes, bonded to a polypropylene penetration-resistant felt impregnated with a corrosion inhibitor or biocide contained within a water resistant thixotropic gel as dictated by the application for which the system will be supplied."
Just one sentence, but what a beauty.
I sometimes write nonsense for comic effect or to make a point but I don’t think I ever manage to send up language as successfully as the people who write these things in all seriousness. I sometimes question the whole process of evolution. The first example above was written by someone in charge of supplying training services, in other words an educator and communicator. He (I bet it’s a he) should be strapped to a chair and have these words soaked in vinegar (or worse) and fed to him as a sort of verbal porridge – preferably up his nostrils (decorum prevents me from articulating alternative routes to his digestive system).
Then again, what should we do with a person who writes ‘less than 159 people’?