Saturday, 4 May 2013

Herding Cats or You Had Me At Hello

The English language is very flexible.  You can twist it and bend it as much as you like as long as people understand you and as long as you don't mind the purists among us complaining that you're ruining the language.

Having said that, it is not so surprising to learn that phrases commonly used in day-to-day office business can be very irritating.  A recent survey found that, for example, management's over-use of expressions such as "going forward", "let's touch base on this", "thinking outside the box", "flag up" and "it's on my radar" were apt to make them see red (yes this post is a bit tongue in cheek and I put that phrase in deliberately to make you smile :)).  One of my favourite hates was "let's make it happen" but I think this has been dropped from high-powered meetings since nobody actually made anything "happen"  simply because you can't.

When I worked in London many cell phone years ago, my manager at the time was piqued by the expression "to liaise".  He maintained (at length!) that liaison was a noun begged, borrowed or stolen from the French and you couldn't make a verb out of it.  This very same manager used to get up my nose (yes, another bit of tongue in cheek :)) by saying "I'll appraise him/her of that."  As we all know you appraise a situation but you apprise someone of it.  That was drummed into me by the good nuns at school.

It's amazing how expressions come and go.  Whatever happened to manifold or diverse or even myriad? Now everything is eclectic, which gets a bit boring after a while.  And you have an "epiphany" which sounds a bit scary to me. I'd rather do some soul-searching and find myself.  My favourite though, simply because it is so evocative, is "herding cats"  This immediately conjures up the impossibility of trying to keep a group of independent and freedom-loving felines together in a group. One of the good guys among the cliches.

I think I'll finish with a quote from Jane Austen, a lady who wrote so elegantly and had a right to feel as Marianne does in Sense and Sensibility when she says  :  "I abhor every common catch-phrase by which wit is intended." Sir John, to whom she addressed her remarks, "did not much understand this reproof but laughed as heartily as if he did."
 I think we can deduce from this that we are all going to have to think outside the box as we go forward.

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