centralasian (centralasian) wrote,

_____________________[PRO] linguistic continuum

Here are some recent corporate announcements. The first comes from Edgar Bronfman, who is about to become Warner Music's chairman. Mr Bronfman had this to say about the music industry's prospects: "We are going to need to see a rebalancing of the appetite for music through channels that are not currently commerce enabled. We see this growth coming."

What on earth did he mean? I am guessing, but I think he meant something like this: "The music industry is struggling to make money. This is because young people can get their music off the internet for free. We hope to persuade them to pay for music by using internet services we are setting up ourselves. These services are not yet making money but we expect them to do so soon."

I may be wrong and, if so, I hope that someone from Mr Bronfman's office will set me straight. In the meantime, let us leave Mr Bronfman to his rebalancing appetite and move to our second specimen: Robert Fletcher, director of "distribution strategy" at Norwich Union, the UK insurance company.

Norwich Union last week announced on the website of Aviva, its parent company, that it was increasing its investment in Lifetime Group's "wrap platform". A clearly delighted Mr Fletcher said: "Norwich Union offers a wide range of products and services through a range of distribution channels and we see wraps as complementary to these. We see wraps as playing an important role in the development of the advisory market going forward."

I would love to offer you a translation of the sort I attempted on Mr Bronfman's effort but I am afraid I cannot as I have no idea what, in this context, a "wrap" is. The only wraps I know of are a kind of sandwich from Marks and Spencer (I like the duck) and a loose robe or shawl that some people (not me, you will be relieved to hear) drape around their bodies. I do not think Mr Fletcher was referring to either of those. Can Norwich Union help? "A wrap," its website says, "is essentially a web-enabled platform that allows access to a broad range of investment funds through the full spectrum of product wrappers." I am sorry. You are on your own on this one.

I will, however, make two observations about Mr Fletcher. First, he could devote more time to his wraps if he resolved never to use the phrase "going forward" again. It is unnecessary. It adds nothing to what went before. That so many others use it is no excuse.

Mr Fletcher is better than they are. How can I tell? He knows the difference between "complement" and "compliment".

That distinguishes him from the provider of the next exhibit, one of my fans. "Your article in today's FT is full of the same old clichéd nonsense," he enthused after I wrote about the worthlessness of public relations consultants. "As a financial PR executive I know that I offer a specialist service to clients, which usually compliments their in-house PR team." You compliment them, do you? No wonder they love you.

Now to the world's greatest company, General Electric, and its chairman, Jeff Immelt. I imagine that what he meant to tell shareholders in April was: "Your management sees its principal job to make and sell great products that people need." Unfortunately, this appears on GE's website as being the management's "principle job".

Finally to Nikon, which has plastered the London Underground with advertisements for a camera "with it's unique swivel lens". Now, I do not know what you think should be done with people who cannot be bothered to learn the difference between "it's" and "its". Lynne Truss, author of a new book on punctuation called Eats, Shoots & Leaves, thinks they should be "struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave". What a softy. Eats, Shoots & Leaves has been a surprise UK bestseller. Every company meeting should begin with a reading from it, followed by a prayer of thanks for its existence.

But warm, weird, witty and wise though it is, Eats, Shoots & Leaves is not enough. (The title comes from an old joke about a panda. I am not going to repeat it; buy your own book.)

The ignorance of those whose job is to communicate goes beyond punctuation. Many grew up during what Ms Truss calls the "dark-side-of-the-moon years", when schools in much of the English-speaking world decided that grammar, spelling and punctuation were obstacles to communication rather than aids to it.

How can anyone get a job in an advertising agency without knowing that the correct spelling is "its unique swivel lens"? Easy: the people doing the hiring have no idea either.

The problem, however, is bigger than this. Not only do those who communicate not have the tools; they also make no effort to address themselves to anyone outside their immediate circle. In the insurance business, they probably all know what a wrap is. Why tell anyone else?

What is to be done? Much of the English-speaking world appears to be emerging from its illiterate dark age. (Did any other language allow itself to be so abused?) In British schools, an hour of every day is now devoted to literacy. Grammar and spelling have returned. Comprehension tests are back.

It is the lost generation of adults we need to worry about. So many have jobs that require them to communicate and they do not know where to begin. They need to be told that a communicator who does not know where an apostrophe goes is like a racing driver who does not know what a dipstick is. Having been schooled in the basics, they need to be taught to put them into practice, with written composition classes and public speaking lessons.

We need literacy hour everywhere, from the boardroom to the post room. Bronfman! Put that non-commerce-enabled channel away and face the front. Now!

The linguistic continuum
By Michael Skapinker
FT.com site; Dec 09, 2003
The linguistic continuum

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