Michael Clifford: Words matter now more than ever

Michael Clifford: Words matter now more than ever

“A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”George Orwell.

So, will somebody please double down on reaching out this new year? Failing that, would it be possible in 2020 to reset on all the virtue signalling?

Now is the time to interrogate the data on these issues before I begin to tear my hair out.

The closing of one year and the opening of another might be a time to reflect on why the state of vernacular as spoken and written in this country has gone bananas.

Plain English is out the window. Phraseology that had the benefit of colour and context is used no more.

Everything today is delivered in this kind of quasi-tech lingo mixed with American sporting jock piffle, all dipped in pseudo therapy speak.

A few examples are stark. Let’s start with ‘reaching out’.

This term is now in vogue to describe meeting or contacting a fellow human being in all its different settings.

It evokes the image of a hand extending to draw in the subject and set a soft and fuzzy tone for the contact.

Think Diana Ross smothered in sequins reaching out to touch somebody’s hand, to make this world a better place, if you can.

Even people who should know better are engaging in this piffle.

A while back, respected New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a striking piece about the conditions for migrants in border detention centres.

Then he went and spoiled it all by declaring: “I reached out to federal and local officials for comment.”

You did what? Why didn’t you just pick up a phone or knock on a door?

Moving on to the sporting jock sphere, I acknowledge that ‘stepping up to the plate’ is entering the realm of old hat by now, but it still drives me round the bend.

Stepping up to the plate is not an invitation to eat some grub, but a reference to the batting position in baseball.

The game is a tiny minority sport in this country, yet we hear of people stepping up to the plate to beat the band. (In a similar vein, if I see another sportswriter referring to a sportsperson being in their ‘sophomore year’ I’ll… step up to the plate with a baseball bat in my hand and violence on my mind).

Check out ‘reset’. At a time when sporting parlance in this country has embraced ‘the process’ to describe plain old tactics, we also have ‘reset’ to tell everybody to get back into position.

If this was confined to sporting environments, we could live with it, but it has contaminated general life.

Every morning, I don’t get out of bed. I reset.

Speaking of grub, wherefore ‘all-you-can-eat data’?

Listen, you think the leftover chicken from Sunday’s roast tastes rank by Wednesday? Try tucking into data. (Pronounced date-a with the hint of a Californian accent if you really want to signal your virtue).

On the subject of data, have you ever tried to interrogate data?

This scary-sounding activity arose last year in the controversy over material removed from Independent News & Media’s computer server.

Michael Clifford: Words matter now more than ever

The data was taken offshore to be ‘interrogated’. Did they strap the data to chair and tell it to spill the beans or excruciating torture would follow?

Moving onto the business of dialling.

Every now and again, you’re bound to hear about somebody dialling up a situation, or even dialling it down, at a time when nobody dials anymore.

We tap numbers on mobiles (which will soon be called cellphones, mark my word).

Then we come to the phrase that has not so much entered but set up shop in the popular vernacular. How are you fixed for ‘virtue signalling’?

You can’t walk down the street these days without encountering somebody who’s virtue signalling.

On first inspection, this might indicate notice that a virtue is coming down a railtrack near you.

In fact, it’s just the in-vogue term to describe somebody who has a great welcome for themselves.

Remember Saipan and Roy Keane suggesting that Niall Quinn was Mother Theresa? Now try imagining Roy stating that Niall was actually virtue signalling.

No, Mr Keane is far too intelligent to lower himself into that mumbo jumbo, yet virtue signalling is all the rage.

Another rage that has swept through the vernacular is ‘space’. People no longer live in homes — those who have them — but occupy a space.

They used to hold an opinion but now they’re in a particular space.

They may have endured periods of being down in the dumps, or flying without wings, but now they are in a bad space or a good space, as if they were Major Tom, floating in a tin can, far above the world, looking for a little space to call their own.

What has befallen passion? It used to reference sex or love or a primal connection with a form of art or some activity that bettered the lot of humans or animals.

Now passion has set up shop in the workplace. A consultant of some hue or other was recently quoted on the business pages saying she was ‘passionate about time management’.

Whatever floats your boat.

At the end of the day, nothing compares right now to ‘so’.

So, let’s deal with the ‘so’ business. ‘So’ is now used to prefix the most basic explanation of anything, or even the recounting of anything, and is usually weighted with the kind of patient inflection one might deploy in addressing a child of tender years.

So. We were out last night and somebody asked where all this ‘so’ business came from.

So I explained that it originated in Silicon Valley, created by the Geeks to explain the basics of their latest inventions to those less geekish than they. So. There you are.

I wish they’d stop, so I do.

I could go on until the cows come home but it would only make my head hurt more. Can George Orwell’s observations be applied to the current contamination of the popular vernacular?

Words fail me on that one. What I do know is that this column will most likely result in me being accused of virtue signalling for calling out all the doubling down on the poor vernacular.

Happy new year.

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