A Brief History of the Non-Sexual Use
and Abuse of the English Tongue
By John Ward
English has been refined into an expressive tongue with a complex grammar system, pronunciation rules and all the requisite irregularities. But the rules still apply. I hate it when people use the pluperfect inappropriately, with incorrect past term verbs that feel like a heated ice pick being driven into my cochlea. “So she had went to the grocery store…” Arrgh! “She had gone to the grocery store…” but only if you are trying to establish that this event occurred before another event to which in the narrative. If not: “She went to the grocery store…” will suffice.
I am also nauseated by the incorrect use of expressions like “I couldn’t care less!” This means I care so little, that it would be impossible for me to care less. When this is turned into “I could care less!” I want to vomit. That is the opposite! It means you care enough that it is possible to care less than you do!
Some of the more insidious ways that language is abused is in politics and business. I remember Operation Desert Shield, which meant coalition troops would be sent to Saudi to protect their borders. (Why one of the richest nations in the world cannot protect their own borders is beyond me.) Then there was Operation Desert Storm for the attack on Iraq, in the administration of the more benign Bush. These are good operation names. They describe what is going on clearly.
However if you look at some of the names given in the last administration, you will see a dangerous abuse of the language. The next attack on Iraq was called “Operation Just Cause.” Makes you wonder who they were trying to convince. Then there were the laws that eviscerated the Bill of Rights: “The Patriot Act” so called so that if you opposed it you weren’t being patriotic. “The Homeland Security Act,” another brilliant name for draconian laws which stripped the American people of civil rights and liberties, but couched in language with which no-one can argue.
Now we have an economy which has been destroyed by the philosophy of a free and unregulated market being able to take care of itself which allowed crooked high-level executives to borrow money against assets at about thirty to one, pay themselves huge salaries and bonuses and then declare bankruptcy. In addition, while these unscrupulous piles of human feces destroyed their corporations and hence the livelihood of thousands of people and hence the economy of the country and hence that of the world, they are leaving these sinking ships with huge bonuses!
Performance bonuses are being paid to the very scoundrels whose performances destroyed the economy! So what solution does Wall Street, AIG, Bear Sterns, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac propose? Don’t call the bonuses bonuses anymore.
The Huffington Post obtained a tape recording of Morgan Stanley Co-President, James Gorman, which clearly demonstrates his ability to distort the language.
“There will be a retention award. Please do not call it a bonus. It is not a bonus. It is an award.” The insult is that these people are so arrogant they think the taxpayer will not be able to tell the difference between a “bonus” and a “retention award.”
Then again, in a world where we accept the euphemism “Campaign Contribution” for “Bribe” and “enhanced interrogation” for torture; that if you oppose sending the troops into harm’s way, you are not “supporting the troops” and that the statement “Mission Accomplished” does not mean the war is over, perhaps these top execs have a point.