Wednesday, October 28, 2009 10/28/09 - officespeak

In today's excerpt - if you happen to work
for a bureaucracy, you'll need to know the
subtleties of "officespeak":

"This section deals with the technical
aspects of officespeak,
such as passive voice, circular reasoning,
and rhetorical questions.
These are the nuts and bolts of the Rube
Goldberg contraption that is
the language of the office. Obscurity,
vagueness, and a noncommittal
stance on everything define the essence of
officespeak. No one wants
to come out and say what they really think.
It is much safer for the company and those up
top to constantly cloak their language in
order to
hide how much they do know or, just as often,
how much they don't
know. ...

Passive voice: The bread and butter of
press releases and official statements. For
those who have forgotten their basic grammar,
a sentence in the passive voice does not have
an active verb. Thus, no one can take the
blame for 'doing' something, since nothing,
grammatically speaking,
has been done by anybody. Using the passive
voice takes the emphasis
off yourself (or the company). Here [is an]
few example of how the passive voice can
render any situation guiltless:

'Five hundred employees were laid off.' (Not
'The company laid
off five hundred employees,' or even worse,
'I laid off five hundred employees.' These
layoffs occurred in a netherworld of
displaced blame, in which the company and the
individual are
miraculously absent from the picture.)

Circular reasoning: Another favorite
when it comes time to deliver bad news. In
circular reasoning, a problem is posited and
a reason is given. Except that the reason is
basically just a rewording of the problem.
Pretty nifty. Here are
some examples to better explain the

'Our profits are down because of [a decrease
in revenues].'

'People were laid off because there was a
surplus of workers.' ...

Rhetorical questions: The questions
that ask for no answers. So why even ask the
question? Because it makes it seem as though
the listener is participating
in a true dialogue. When your boss asks,
'Who's staying late tonight?'
you know he really means, 'Anyone who wants
to keep their job will work late.' Still,
there's that split second when you think you
have a
say in the matter, when you believe your
opinion counts. Only to be
reminded, yet again, that no one cares what
you think. ...

Hollow statements: The second cousin
of circular reasoning. Hollow statements make it
seem as though something positive is
happening (such as better
profits or increased market share), but they
lack any proof to support
the claim.

'Our company is performing better than it looks.'

'Once productivity increases, so will
profits.' ...

They and them: Pronouns used to refer
to the high-level management that no one has
ever met, only heard whispers about. 'They'
are faceless and often
nameless. And their decisions render those
beneath them impotent to
change anything. 'They' fire people, 'they'
freeze wages, 'they' make
your life a living hell. It's not your boss
who is responsible - he would
love to reverse all these directives if he
could. But you see, his hands
are tied.

'I'd love to give you that raise, you know I
would. But they're the
ones in charge.'

'Okay, gang, bad news, no more cargo shorts
allowed. Hey, I
love the casual look, but they hate it.'

Obfuscation: A tendency to obscure,
darken, or stupefy. The primary goal of the above
techniques is, in the end, obfuscation.
Whether it's by means of the
methods outlined above or by injecting
jargon-heavy phrases into sentences,
corporations want to make their motives and
actions as difficult to
comprehend as possible."

D.W. Martin, Officespeak, Simon
Spotlight, Copyright 2005 by David Martin,
pp. 11-20.


Post a Comment

<< Home