Sunday, May 11, 2008

Business Banter

The wonderful thing about keeping a language-related blog, is that it's difficult to run out of source material. Aside from the rich pages of research journals in this newer branch of study called Linguistics, language itself surrounds us (or at the very least, surrounds those who're capable of reading this blog).

So, over the weekend (the first of 12 long-weekends I plan to enjoy this term), I dug up some old movies: A Fish Called Wanda (1988), and Fierce Creatures (1997). Initially, it was to appreciate the role of Michael Palin more, being totally unaware of him and the Monty Python group when I first saw these movies as a child. And near the beginning of the second film, Fierce Creatures (which starred many of the same actors), Kevin Kline holds a conference call, and says this curious line:
"if this communiqué is in any way sleep-interruptive, I'll re-telephone you later,"
which, of course, should strike any native speaker of any variety of English as being non-standard. The comedy contained should be self-evident, making fun of the "professional" businessman (is "white collar" the common vernacular?), and his obvious ignorance on language and language use.

I could expand on the actual anomalies of the line, but I think it's brilliant, and beautifully illustrates the general demographic of the "professional" businessman. A businessman who obviously hadn't received a proper/real/decent education.

And the extraordinary thing is, aside from this common joke that seems to become more and more cliché, is that it seems in actual fact to be based on truth. In my relatively short life of a quarter-century, I've had friends who've gone into business, worked for people in business, and met people from other businesses than the one I was at. And despite the obvious individual characteristics, there were certain common traits found among them all: a general ignorance for higher classical education (as science or philosophy), and a general abuse of language.

Admittedly, nobody I've met has ever used language as terribly as to assume a communiqué is equivalent to a telephone call, or that sleep-interruptive is an accepted adjective. But they still create a certain structure of language that goes beyond mere jargon.

In terms of written communication, I find that most of the time, the business/administrative trendy are usually not so technologically updated. At least, that's the best excuse I can come up with to explain the appalling plethora of emails I received at work, completely void of structure and punctuation. And this, of course, makes me even more critical of small word choice.

One of the examples I abhor the most in "professional language" (or in reality, imitation language, spoken and perpetuated by this false rising "middle" class that totally should have been reigned in and subdued decades ago by the peerage), is the use of the two words in succession: "as per". What the frell is it supposed to mean! Does the latinate "per" magically make the businessman an educated individual? The extraordinary thing is that once people hear it for the first time, usually by some ignorant businessman, they assume that it's proper to use in professional speech, and thus a whole new generation regenerates this lingual travesty.

Do I have any acceptable alternatives? the critical reader may ask. And in fact, I do! Such phrases include: "according to," "as to," "following [your request]," and simply "per". Sample sentences:
"I did it as you requested"
"Following your inquiry, please find enclosed a copy of ---"
"The company has fullfilled the criteria, according to your specifications"
"All parties have completed their tasks per the contract"
So, really, why spread about more nonsense than necessary in the inherently flawed grammar of English? Speaking of which, something which became popular in my workplace was to end tag questions with "or no?" which was rather new to me. I was tempted to use it at first, until I realised that the reason why it sounded so foreign was because it was simply wrong. But I've blogged about that before, so no need to go there again.

So, please don't make any more sleep-interruptive communiqués that will require a later re-telephoning.

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