Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Mixing up clear English and turning it into mud

At a local public library I recently found the new book Spin•glish: the definitive dictionary of deliberately deceptive language, by Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf. It has numerous examples of how to muddy up your language with jargon, which is something that a speechwriter always should avoid. (There was a preview in Vanity Fair with 25 examples).

Here are six examples for products:

Air sickness vomit sack becomes motion discomfort receptacle.

Cow manure becomes dairy nutrients.

Hammer becomes fastening device impact driver.

Hex nuts become hexiform rotatable compression units.

Paint becomes facade protectant.

School bus becomes education transport module.

An event like an airplane crash also gets muddied up to controlled flight into terrain or  failure to maintain clearance from the ground. The former phrase can be made even more confusing by use of the acronym CFIT, which would be pronounced see fit.

Sex gets several spin terms. Three from Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina, are:

Adulterous sex becomes serious overdrive.

Committing adultery becomes hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Sex becomes incredibly intense conversation.

Three other related terms are:

Engaging in illicit sex becomes discussing Uganda.

Outdoor sex becomes watching badgers.

Zero gravity sex becomes undue preferential treatment.

You can read more at the web site for the book.

The only error I found in the book was that on page 154 it claimed that:

Spade becomes round-nose shovel - a substitute descriptive term for the digging tool formerly called a spade, now widely used by hardware stores in an effort to avoid a word that once was a common racial epithet.

My 1994 5th edition of the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms says a spade instead is:

“A shovellike implement with a flat oblong blade; used for turning soil by pushing against the blade with the foot.”

The cement mixer was adapted from Wikimedia Commons.

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