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Updated: September 20, 2010 20:57 IST

Wordly-wise?

GEETA PADMANABHAN
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KEEP IT SIMPLE: Avoid using unnecessary jargon. Photo: H. Vibhu
The Hindu KEEP IT SIMPLE: Avoid using unnecessary jargon. Photo: H. Vibhu

How do we end up with so many words that say so little?

You read it in the papers and on the internet. You hear it on TV channels non-stop.

While some overused words, phrases and expressions let us off with a mild headache, others can be utterly annoying. For instance, think of what you have to hear from the dentist. You're strapped into the chair with your mouth wide open, while he comes at you with a machine that looks like it was meant for drilling oil wells. And holding the lethal weapon close to your face, he says sweetly, “This might hurt a bit.” ‘Might’? ‘A bit’?

Telephone troubles

And what do you do when telephone recordings deliver their set of punchlines? Call a simple eight-digit number, and a cheery voice trills, “The extension is unavailable! Press X for operator assistance.” Now this is a breeze compared to being put through a series of numbers and a memory-test of instructions — “Press one for English, Press two for ...” This telephone torture also includes endless music and the BP-raising “You have been put on hold.” The only sentence worse than this is the “Can you hold on for a minute?” that follows the circus of the “Press-one-for” routine. The “One minute” is obviously measured in cosmic time during which the connection goes dead and the operator's duty hours end. The lifeless computer is also an accomplice to this game. “This page cannot be displayed”, it says at the end of your long search. If so, why did Google lead you here? 

To be continued..

A phrase that sinks your spirit is the “To be continued” (or “Will blossom”, or “Will keep searching”) at the end of TV serial episodes. It means “We have you hooked, viewer. That suspense-filled last part will pull you back to us next week.” And TV anchors, please note. If, in your 30-second report from the “field”, you use “all said and done” six times, you are not saying much. Also, could you please find a new way to ask, “How do you feel?” How are you supposed to feel when you win? Or lose? Obvious! Obvious! 

And then there's the “Under Servicing” sign on the lift door when you return from extensive shopping; the “Inconvenience Regretted” at the airport that's forever under construction; the “Counter Closed” at supermarkets, airports and movie theatres. Is there a conspiracy? When did “Awesome” become a generic word for both good and bad, and “Basically” the first word in every sentence? Why is everything “Breaking News” and what exactly is the “Bottomline”?

It's time we stopped “pushing the envelope”, “being on the same page”, “raising the bar” and “thinking outside the box”. We don't want any “cutting edge” “at this point in time”. Nor do we want to “keep anyone in the loop” or “take something forward”. Let's forget “been there done that” “in this day and age”

Corporate jargon

Many of the grammar-challenged words in corporate jargon (incentivise, efforting, actionable, best practices) are losing shine, which is probably why new ones are being invented by the hour. Can we also snip off the unnecessary word in ECR Road, LPG gas, ATM machine, PIN number, Free Gift, End Result and Added Bonus? Let's develop “zero tolerance” for leverage, sustainable, level playing field, touch base (that's baseball jargon!), win-win, and ‘I personally feel'. The fact of the matter is, they irritate.   

Let's say “You’re welcome”, and not “No problem” when people thank you. Let’s not “take it for granted” that people appreciate our “holistic ways”.    Can we also banish words and phrases that sound vague, non-committal and unreliable? ‘Yes, but…’, ‘I guess’, ‘I don't know, I'll get back to you’. We’ll see. Whatever.

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