Monday, September 28, 2009

That Said

What's with all the unnecessary gibberish syllables people are increasingly attaching to their utterances? For example the phrase "that said," after making some point. First of all, this is obvious if the listener/reader has been paying attention at all. Second, it usually suggests a prelude to presenting another perspective, which could more meaningfully be conveyed with the word "however" or meaningfully and briefly with "but."
Or how about "It is what it is"? Gee! Really?
How does "in and of itself" differ from "in itself"?
Some forms of "to be able to" seem increasingly to replace "can" or "could." Or to appear for no reason at all, as in "When Gallileo looked through his telescope at the moons of Jupiter and at the motions of the other planets, he was able to conclude that Copernicus was right about the turn of the earth." This could more economically be put like this: ". . . he concluded that . . . ."

In his essay "Politics and the English Language" Orwell called these "verbal false limbs" and warned that exposure to blather like these (and some other forms - see his essay) threatens collectively to make our minds lazy. This is already happening.

These are just a few examples. Here are some more.

6 comments:

Avery said...

No where is this type of tautological and vacuously verbose flatulence of the mouth found than in job listings--something I have been spending an exhausting amount of time with recently. HR appears to be where all people only smart enough to try to sound smarter go to work.

Alice said...

-"verbal false limbs"-

Nice wordage...

Great post, Arch!

xox
-Alice

ellwort said...

Thanks Avery - and Alice -
Ave - as you're probably coming to recognize, all that verbiage in job listings works to mask false promises - lies.
Alice - Orwell gets credit for coinage of "verbal false limbs." He is the bomb. 1984? Animal House? Prescient guy. I'm sure you - librarian lady - could find "Politics and the English Language" in the texts somewhere. If not I'll snail-mail it to you. Lemme know.
Lakoff's insights on framing (Don't Think of an Elephant) almost certainly follow Orwell.
xo

gloryoski said...

Ooops. I didn't mean to use a "false limb" last night or to make anyody's mind lazy.

But when I said it, (http://www.samsedershow.com/node/5307#comment-374975) I was actually avoiding saying a lot more. Like...I don't know whether to say "What's up with the tone?" or "He may be right about some things, and if so how embarrassing for her."

So that may not be any better but it's not the same.

ellwort said...

Gloryoski -
No big deal. We all do it. You might have said either of those things, or even something like "I don't know what to make of this" if you hadn't (quite naturally) been thinking three words ahead of your intro remark. And there that ready-made phrase was, right handy. "A packet of aspirins always at one's elbow," as Orwell calls them, and he himself, toward the end of the "Politics" essay, says,
"Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against."
The essay itself (you can Google up the full text), like Hedges's, is important, though, because it warns that our thoughts may be manipulated by the phrases that finds their way like slogans into common use.
At the end, Orwell presents a list of guidelines for direct speech; the last one is this:
"Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous."

ellwort said...

". . . phrases that findS their way . . . "
Jeez, Arch! Wake up!