HEARD the one about the 69-year-old doctor seated on a paid-for United Airlines flight who was upended and dragged, screaming, off the plane?
Of COURSE you have. You’d need to be a heavily concussed pensioner with a broken nose and missing teeth – which is how the doctor ended up following his brush with airline security – to have missed the ‘dream holiday story of a lifetime’ brought to you courtesy of UAL, the folk who beg you to ‘fly the friendly skies’.
Of course, United don’t see it quite that way: according to the airline’s own terminology they were simply dealing with ‘an involuntary denial of passenger space’.
If only the good doctor had been told at the time it was happening that he wasn’t really being carted unceremoniously from the plane but was merely being ‘involuntarily denied a passenger space’ he might have felt a lot better and may even not have lost his two front teeth in the ensuing misunderstanding. Being given such a lucid explanation as to what was happening, the good fellow might even have left the plane singing and blowing kisses to the other passengers.
To be serious; this newspeak stuff may sound like modern PR tosh, but George Orwell was writing some splendid essays about linguistic abuse seventy years ago. Orwell would have been as intrigued as he was appalled by the phrase ‘involuntary denial of passenger space’, as he would by the current-day military’s regular torturing of our English language. Their chilling phrase ‘to terminate with extreme prejudice’ (simply meaning ‘to kill’) is a classic example.
Then there’s that cosy, alliterative phrase ‘friendly fire’ which, rather than signifying a warm blaze on a freezing night, is used when an army has massacred its own soldiers.
Estate agents know all about this kind of thing; they’re past masters at deceit through such property para-phraseology as ‘full of character’ (no roof), ‘cosy’(three-foot-by-two), ‘ripe for potential’ (no walls) or ‘unique’ (no roof or walls).
A humble scribbler gets to wondering what other euphemistic examples could be lying unearthed. I came up with a handful and offer them free of charge:
- Total Capital Liberation: having your head chopped off
- Visual Sensory Readjustment: to go blind
- Non-predicted Cryogenic Education: experience a sudden boiler breakdown in sub-zero conditions.
- Terminal Lead Ingestion Solution: shot by firing squad
- Permanent International Perambulatory Freedom: a privilege afforded to stateless asylum seekers.
Keeping the language free of such pollutants is one task of uncorrupted writers (who actually number fewer than you might think). The overall motive of any such jargon, after all, is to hide the truth. And without the search for truth any writing is suspect.
Journalism is itself a devalued occupation, yet one of the few groups upon which professional scribblers can look down are those who have sold their souls and skills to some public relations outfit.
Writing advertising copy is highly lucrative while writing poetry is usually unpaid, more evidence of our strange world. But then poetry generally isn’t trying to sell you a product. ‘No money in poetry!’ as someone once said (to which came the reply ‘no poetry in money, either!’).
Someone has to write propagandising tosh, of course, though I would rather it wasn’t me. Oh, go on then; I’ll do it this once; it’s not that difficult, after all. Try these two:
- A quick snappy phrase for a global car rental firm? ‘Love Hertz.’
- A catchy phrase to celebrate the unique top section of a famous drink? ‘If you want to get ahead, get a Guinness.’
That’ll be five hundred quid, please. See? Not that difficult. But writing a good poem? Ah, now you’re talking.
Thus I find myself returning to thoughts of the individual who coined the phrase ‘an involuntary denial of passenger space.’ Was it hastily thought up in the wake of the incident? Is it in a handbook of similar phrases meant to obscure the truth?
What is the originator’s job description? How many of these bons mots are he or she expected to churn out on weekly? For what kind of salary?
As for the good doctor, poor man, I can only hope he finds himself a good dentist.
To fix that ‘inadvertent molar transference’, I mean. . .