Imagine a world without clichés. Politicians would be forced to say what they really mean, in plain English.
Politicians who talk in clichés probably think in clichés. Their hand-me-down phrases and worn-out metaphors are a symptom of a deeper malaise, the hollowing-out of politics, where substance (distinctive values and a clear vision) has been replaced by the superficial (managerialism and spin). The resulting insincere language is a major reason why politicians have lost public respect.
Waging war on clichés is good for a laugh but there’s a more important purpose. Taking apart empty language is a form of reverse engineering, which exposes the absence of thought behind it.
The same applies in the world of business. In today’s Financial Times, Lucy Kellaway presents her annual ‘Golden Flannel Awards’ [registration (free) required; to bypass this, go to Google News and enter “The first word in mangled meanings” in the search box].
“2012 turned out to be yet another bumper year for guff, cliché, euphemism and verbal stupidity,” says Kellaway. Her discoveries include a company called Record, which actually makes folding aluminium doors but describes itself as a supplier of “entrance solutions”. She also exposes Citibank, which tried to hide the fact that it was axing 1,100 employees in a press release that talked of “optimizing the customer footprint across geographies”.
I am sorry to report that the clichés used in today’s coalition relaunch are nowhere near as bad as that, though David Cameron made a half-hearted attempt with “full steam ahead”, while Nick Clegg responded with “hard-working families”.
A word of advice to our coalition leaders. If you are going to use bullshit, do it properly or not at all.