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Talking The Talk

IT may be state of the art and all that jazz but the bottom line is, I don't think I'm singing from the same hymn sheet any more. Modern English buzz jargon has become as Greek to me and I’m just not up for it.

Indeed, an Amazonian Indian whose own tribal language is dying out, could probably make a better stab at deciphering the meaning behind: "Let's target the low-hanging fruit," a phrase now in everyday usage which means something about marketing your products to the people most likely to buy them.

Of course, perhaps I am not thinking ‘outside the box’ (being un-original) or maybe it's because ‘my ducks are not in a row’ (I haven't identified the options) but I am afraid that I'll never be able to get out the front foot (get with it) and raise my sperm count (get with it) sufficiently to be able to adapt to this 21st century version of talking the talk - and I'm not one bead short of a rosary.

This business about global players on the fast track touching base (international executives meeting at a conference) always conjures up a picture of a basketball team on skateboards and it has got to the stage where I no longer know where anyone's ‘coming from’ (Lapland or Botswana, perhaps?). Even at work (not 9 to 5 any more but 24/7) people are asking the impossible, wanting me to flag up a few ideas while simultaneously bedding them down - all before doing lunch. Now run that by me again!

The Plain English Campaign agrees with me. In a survey to celebrate its 25th anniversary this month, it has identified the top 10 most irritating phrases in the English language – many of them perpetuated by the actor Ricky Gervais’ character, David Brent, in the BBC sitcom, The Office.

First prize went to ‘At the end of the day’ and, ‘at this moment in time’ (which came second) I hear what they’re saying. The constant use of ‘like’ as if it were a form of punctuation came third while, in fourth place, was ‘With all due respect’ – usually said by people who intend to show no respect – whether due or not.

The Campaign, an independent pressure group launched in 1979, surveyed 5,000 people to come up with its definitive list of nauseous “new-speak”. Campaign spokesman John Lister said over-used phrases were a barrier to communication. "When readers or listeners come across these tired expressions, they start tuning out and completely miss the message - assuming there is one. Using these terms in daily business is about as professional as wearing a novelty tie or having a wacky ring-tone on your phone.

"George Orwell's advice from 1946 is still worth following: 'Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print’.

The David Brent character, often referred to as ‘the bard of Slough’, peppers his conversation with these glib 21st century catch-phrases. Had Shakespeare been around today, he would be having a Twelfth Nightmare trying to fit sayings like ‘the feel-good factor’ into a rhyming couplet. He might not take kindly, either, to the critics describing Desdemona as a ‘trophy wife’ or Iago as Othello's ‘spin doctor’.

It's not just adults who are re-inventing the dictionary. Teenagers, too, have developed their own language picked up from TV programmes such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. ‘Much!’ has taken over as the highest form of sarcastic exclamation ‘and the rest...’ which, in its turn, relegated ‘I'll believe it when I see it’ - a phrase now used only by the carbon dated (anyone over 25).

Bad kids are now ‘toxic’, fuddy duddies are ‘fashion-backward’ and, if your ‘carbon dated mothership’ catches you snogging that toxic boy again it'll be an ‘uber suck’ (a very bad situation).

They say that half the world's 6,700 languages will have become extinct by the end of this century and that Americanised English is even putting paid to dialects. If that's so, then in a few years’ time the cast of Coronation Street will all be eating French fries on rye instead of chip butties, drinking Bud Ice instead of milk stout and asking the neighbours ‘what's going down?’ instead of ‘hey chuck, what’s trouble at’mill?’ 

And, if that happens, it would be a tragedy, as Shakespeare knew the meaning of the word or, in the modern vernacular, a right bummer.

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