Musings

Verbo City—a survivor’s tale

Why, oh why is it, that the words we hear and read and say grow longer and longer and more and more hard to understand as we grow from childhood to adulthood? Why must the language we use become more and more addled and tangled as we career along our chosen career paths and clamber up the ladders of success and promotion, rung by slippery rung?

It’s become a habit, a fashion, the norm, to use big words to confuse, confound, obfuscate, obscure. The longer and less understandable your words, the more people are impressed.  Civil Serpents and Editors of Indian English newspapers are among the worst offenders.  So are Consultants of different kinds, especially in the Development sector.

I am a Consultant in the Development sector. I know.

But I try and use simple words when I speak and write, words that are quite easy to understand. This trait of course makes me a disgrace to my profession.

Yayyy!

The fact is, verbosity has become the convention in formal communication in every profession across the world—which is really weird, because informal communication has long slipped below the 140-character count to the realm of Emogis and images.

In the workplaces of the world, the most successful careers are made by those who can say, in more than six hundred words, what could be better said in three.  Often, when these worthies run out of words, they invent their own words. Others eagerly pick up these totally new words and add their own extensions and variants.

No-one dares ask: “What in heck does that mean?” No-one dares say: “That doesn’t make sense;  that’s crap!”

And so, today, we lesser mortals find ourselves immersed and struggling to stay afloat in a huge, ever-deepening and ever-expanding Sea of Drivel . A Sea whose waters are as crystal-clear as Rahul Gandhi’s  statements, as sparkling and palatable as Asaddudin Owaisi’s or Praveen Togadia’s  philosophies.

Extensive and entirely imaginary research reveals that Ancient India had a name for this great Ocean of Gobbledygook: Gobara Shabdam Sagara[1] [from Muttal Shastras, Vol. 9:  Ch. XXV, 1123-1138. Bakasura Press: Circa 9600 BCE ]

Here’s an example of Gobara Shabdam at its most exquisitely mind-numbing level:  a ‘disclaimer’ taken from the audit report of a leading Indian IT company, conducted by a well-known chartered accountancy firm [to read full report, JFGI[2]…or just click here.]

“…An audit involves performing procedures to obtain audit evidence about the amounts and disclosures in the financial statements. The procedures selected depend on the auditor’s judgment, including the assessment of the risks of material misstatement of the financial statements, whether due to fraud or error. In making those risk assessments, the auditor considers internal control relevant to the entity’s preparation and fair presentation of the financial statements in order to design audit procedures that are appropriate in the circumstances, but not for the purpose of expressing an opinion on the effectiveness of the entity’s internal control. Accordingly, we express no such opinion.”

Here’s another fine example we came across recently: this one from a ‘Request for Proposal’ document issued by a wing of that Mahavishnu of Gobara Shabdam, the United Nations:

Working in partnership with national governments, civil society organizations and other development agencies, we use a mix of approaches which include longer-term efforts aimed at both influencing long-standing harmful social norms and fostering new protective behaviors, through sustained community dialogue and analysis, framing of positive public narratives, and stimulating social non-acceptance of negative social practices.”

How exquisite that phrase: “stimulating social non-acceptance of negative social practices”.

It’s not just gobbledygook; it’s pure mathematics at its best!  Let’s analyse the phrase:

Stimulating’ is positive; so it’s +. ‘Non-acceptance’ is negative, it’s . ‘Negative’ is of course negative, . And ‘social practices’ refers to what’s going on right now, so it’s positive: that’s +. But what’s going on right now is not good at all (it’s bad, bad, bad!); so ‘social practices’ is also negative: that’s !

Putting it all together, the entire phrase can be rewritten as “ + – – +/- ” .

That’s one plus, two minuses, and one plus/minus. So, the overall meaning is either zero or negative!

Isn’t it wonderful?

It’s easy to see why it’s so hard to get funding from UN organizations.

We first need to learn to write like that!

We must confess with shame, dear reader, that we once tried to write like that, if only briefly. Driven by the fierce compulsions of shrinking bank balances, deepening obligations and expanding borrowings, we too once enrolled for a short-term course in ‘Writing Balderdash and Cant’ at the internationally unknown, UN-derecognized Institute of Convoluted Phraseology and Affiliated Gibberish (ICPAG), Laxminagar, New Delhi.

We failed with distinction.  We lost our way somewhere near the appendix; we couldn’t discern semi-colon from colon; we not only passed out but rendered ourselves comma-tose.

We dropped out from ICPAG – fortunately! Because with this violent cerebral self-eviction, we have joyously reverted, light of heart and wallet, to being a mere struggling writer. And our immortal writer’s soul has been saved from a Fate Worse than Debt.

Indeed it is hard— yet we vow never to be trapped again by the silvery, sticky webs of the Spin Meisters that abound in media, politics, corporates, government and NGOs; never to be carried away by the great Tides of Drivel that encircle our planet.

We take heart from Great Warriors against the Tripe of Political Correctness, the Euphemisms of State Speak and other manifestations of Gobara Shabdam such as the late George Carlin [ click here to watch him].

And in times of need (such as now, when we realize we should have reduced this 1000-word rant to 8 words or less), we are inspired by the immortal and inspiring advice that a great newspaper editor of yore gave to aspiring writers:

“When you’ve got a thing to say,

Say it! Don’t take half a day.

When your tale’s got little in it,

Crowd the whole thing in a minute!

Life is short – a fleeting vapour –

Don’t you fill the whole blamed paper

With a tale which, at a pinch,

Could be cornered in an inch!

Boil her down until she simmers,

Polish her until she glimmers.”

[Joel Chandler Harris (1848–1908): advice to writers for the Daily Press]


 

[1] Sanskrit: Gobara = cattle dung (Sl. bullshit); Shabdam = words; Sagara = sea/ocean

[2] JFGI—‘just effing Google it’. This acronym is a fine example of simple, informal communication. [Source: anonymous millennium-generation Gurvi].

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