New words – the fine line between love and hate
Omnishambles – “a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterised by a string of blunders and miscalculations” was judged by the Oxford English Dictionary to be the word of 2012.
Created by writers of the outstanding political BBC TV series The Thick of It, ‘omnishambles’ was rapidly picked up by politicians and journalists and, in particular, applied to real-life rather than fictional government blunders and incompetence.
As #PR practitioners who devise media concepts for the positive benefits of our clients, we instinctively admire those who have come up with new words that are accepted into day-to-day language because they communicate a thought or situation effectively in a new way.
At the same time there are many other new words that have quickly become not only irritating but also even the subject of mockery by humourists and writers. Highly respected columnists Lucy Kellaway in the Financial Times and Carol Midgley in The Times both started the year by questioning, even denigrating, many phrases that they found nauseating by the end of last year.
There is a fine line between new ideas that are annoying and those we anoint with praise. So what is annoying and why?
– the mainly American tendency, not among journalists but mostly among business people and sports coaches, to create verbs from nouns; to ‘medal’ and to ‘podium’ irritated millions including Carol Midgley during the Olympics. ‘To win a medal’ was perfectly satisfactory for over a hundred years and still is … so why change? If it isn’t broken….
– being forced to read something twice because it is written in dense business-speak ( not even jargon) and metaphors that make it difficul to understand instantly; if it fails to communicate clearly first time to everyone, then it shouldn’t have been written in that way.
– As Lucy Kellaway says she found a company which actually makes folding aluminium doors but has elected to describe itself as a supplier of “entrance solutions”! Just call a spade a spade.
– over use; as Carol Midgley points out; Lake Superior State University, in Michigan, in its annual List of Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness includes “bucket list”, “spoiler alert”, “superfood”, and “fiscal cliff”. Among those she would add are “the squeezed middle”, “a big ask”; “parent” when used as a verb, ‘going forward’, “simples” and anything starting with “Fifty Shades….”
As a guide, these political humourists and columnists have a good radar for the sensitive balance between original and over the top. As soon as a phrase is starting to be mocked then its time to move away from it – preferably before…