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Authors Don Watson ISBN 9781740512787 Binding Paperback Published 2004 11 01 Part diatribe part cool reflection on the state of Australia's public language Don Watson's Death Sentence is scathing funny and brilliant ‘ in public life the language has never been held in less regard It withers in the dungeons of the technocratic mind It is butchered by the media In politics it lacks all ualifications for the main game' Almost sixty years ago George Orwell described the decay of language and why this threatened democratic society But compared to what we now endure the public language of Orwell's day brimmed with life and truth Today's corporations government departments news media and perhaps most dangerously politicians – speak to each other and to us in clichÃd impenetrable lifeless sludge Don Watson can bear it no longer In 'Death Sentence' part diatribe part cool reflection on the state of Australia's public language he takes a blowtorch to the words – and their users – who kill joy imagination and clarity Scathing funny and brilliant 'Death Sentence' is a small book of profound weight – and timeliness

10 thoughts on “Death Sentences: How Cliches, Weasel Words and Management-Speak Are Strangling Public Language

  1. says:

    5★This was given to me because I love words I’ve been immersed in so much bureaucratese over the last 20 years that I felt as if this was directed personally at me Not for perpetrating the assault on good language myself but maybe for perpetuating it I’ve contributed to enough policies and procedures to choke a horse There ya go—two examples one of corporate speak PP and a cliché Easy isn’t it? This was written during the end of John Howard’s prime ministership and there are many references to Howard and the then US President George W Bush Watson has enjoyed including several of Bush’s famous slips “More and of our imports come from overseas” and also plenty of the constructions created for Howard “alert but not alarmed” and “core promises” to weasel out of an election promise Although English is spoken in and countries and new words are added every year the actual vocabularies of our kids and leaders are smaller and smaller Journalists either don’t know words or they avoid using them thinking their readers won’t know them And to be fair if people don’t understand what you’re saying you might as well pack your tent and go home Business speak is everywhere “Business language is a desert Like a public company the public language is being trimmed of excess and subtlety; what it doesn’t need is shed what is useful is reorganised prioritised and attached either to new words or to old ones stripped of meaning”Watson has designed the format of this book so that in certain margins there are examples of glorious simple writing alongside an extract from a management document that is repetitive almost incomprehensible and basically meaningless Sports commentators come in for some gentle ribbing but I have a certain sympathy for their desire to fill the silence during time outs Watson knows that former athletes are not necessarily naturally elouent and he enjoys some of their colourful descriptions But they tend to waffle as Keith Stackpole did “Hopefully in terms of the batting the English might improve somewhat Tim” Watson who is no fan of the word ‘hopefully’ used this way asks why couldn’t Stackpole just say “I hope the English batting improves Tim” I agreeFollowing a uotation full of company speak from a university Watson says “You get this far and all you know is that any moment now they’ll be talking about ‘challenging environments’ and ‘identifying core issues’ and ‘key issues' not to say ‘key tasks’ and the need for ‘strategic models’; and that some progress has been made in ‘deriving synergies between the separate entities; but the pace of reform must be accelerated’”You get the idea And he reminds us that speech is revolving between TV shows politicians journalists and kids and back again Like political talking points and politicians being on message speech patterns are getting sillier repetitive and less informative He touches on the apostrophe catastrophe and upspeak where so many sentences sound like uestions but says mainly he wants words to say what they mean so that people understand them He wants children to learn how to express themselves clearlyIf onlyI think that’s why I’ve started reading books with such a passion again I need to read language that says what it means and says it well Watson uotes philosophers Lincoln Faulkner El Leonard and of course the inimitable George W Bush He knows what he’s talking about Watson not BushA great read for anyone who deplores the current propaganda that passes for business and political discourse these days

  2. says:

    I really wanted this book to be good It is on a topic that is essential it is written by the speech writer for Paul Keating an ex Australian Prime Minister it simply sounded like it had everything going for it Like anyone interested in language I hate the corporatisation of English that has been going on for well over a century now I work in an industry where people actually say they seek 'closure' without a hint of embarrassment and I've learnt that one can only feel sorry for them for so long Action is needed to defend our languageSo I started this book with the best of expectations which proved all the worse when those expectations were shattered The main problem with the book is structural There are uotes placed at random throughout now normally I really like a good uote but in this case it was hard to see how the uotes in text boxes separate to the actual text fit with what was being discussed on the page To make matters worse it became hard to know when to stop reading the actual text and to read these 'asides' So they became incredibly distracting so much so that they felt a bit like an annoying child prattling on about something uite tangential to the point of the text In the end it was hard to concentrate on either the writer's point or these asidesThe writer's point isn't too different from Orwell in Politics and the English Language in fact Orwell did in a few pages what it takes an entire book here and I feel Orwell did it much successfully So if brevity is the soul of wit Well you might just want to read Orwell and not bother with this at all The writer is even aware that this is a potential criticism of his work and even mentions this along the way but his discussion of this point is less than convincing All this is a pity as the topic is one that is incredibly important The world we live in is a world embarrassed by convictions unless of course they are the convictions of the charlatan or the advertising executive Then it seems necessary to pretend perhaps for politeness sake not to notice their irrationality and blatant self interest The antidote to this modern malaise is a clear statement of the writer's intent not one shrouded in pretty sounding words of little or no meaning Such a clear statement uickly shows anyone paying the least attention whether the speaker is worth listening to in the first place or not and hence why such clear statements are increasingly rare This book promised to state the case for such a view it is a pity it fell so far short of that aim

  3. says:

    I get it The guy can write a good clean sentence One dip in the pool of his prose will carry your eye across several pages to the Ocean of English Ecstasy You might even say he's fun to readFor a whileThe problem is this every page in the book says about the same thing as every other There's no structure no organization Just a steady stream of lambasting the mundane babble of corporations governments schools news nonprofits And while he does a damn good job of that he also needs to take the plank out of his own eye and stop writing just to hear himself write

  4. says:

    I recently re read this I remembered not liking it very much for some inspecific reason but nevertheless picked it up as I was running for the train certain that it would enrich my knowledge of the English language and spark some thought in my almost dead brain Unfortunately by the half way point the reason for my vague recollections of dislike came flooding back to me in a tsunami of regret how's that for a mixed metaphor Don? Although Don makes marvellous points with wonderful language the whining is simply unbearable Yes people use jargon to simplify their message Yes we all write very plainly in ways that clever people can choose to deliberately misinterpret Unfortunately however the bulk of us write for an audience with a 5th grade education and the attention span of a 3 year oldOne of the things I recall most clearly about the first business writing workshop I ever attended was the oft told story of the news room at the London Mirror I suspect the publication changes depending upon the reader where the editor in cheif had posted the mantra 'remember they are only 8' over the floor for all to seeWhen I am writing an email that I want upwards of 10000 people in over 20 countries most of whom do not speak English as their language of choice I'm not going to launch into a solilouy comparing legislative amendments to the tribulations of a 13th Century agrarian farmer however much Don would like itI also think all of his whinging about collouialisms and the misappropriation of certain phrases is a bit rich from someone who acknowledges that the English language is a living thingAlthough I find every reference by a real estate agent to flats 'comprising of' certain rooms or amenities and while I may find the persistent use of 'whereby' as a means of converting a normal sentence structure into a bizarre 3rd person fragmented mess full of dangling participles as irritating as the next reasonably educated fellow they are all English and only time will tell whether they are idiocy or genius

  5. says:

    I was extremely disappointed in this book His point that vague wordy and meaningless corporate speech has become the new standard for all speech is valid Unfortunately that point was made in the first few pages and the rest of the book is spent remaking the point Rather than offering solutions for what one should do when such speech is expected resumes for example he labors the point with too many examples most of which are drawn from American politics and business

  6. says:

    Should be reuired reading for all modern writers Do not read this however if you are already entrenched in the corporate world it will shake your foundation too violently

  7. says:

    Death Sentence A Decay In Public Language by Don WatsonRandom House Publication NSW AustraliaNot so great contrary to my expectation hence awarding 3 stars Watson explores languages mainly use in cooperate world I was expecting real life samples of speeches remarks and their analysis to back up his theories There are so many uotes and sources being cited I am particularly impress with the analysis of the famous Mark Anthony's eulogy Probably because I am a devotee of William Shakespeare I would agree that his speech is a political spin A dog whistling kind The words and how Anthony groups them really stirs the populace into mutiny and rampage Yes Watson points it out correctly 'Elouence is no guarantee of truth Antony's speech is one proof of that' Pp85 88In a democratic country to have a common understanding simple and plain English is imperative That should be the case No need to have confused citizens with obscure and meaningless words I always believe in thatThanks for reading and feel free to comment

  8. says:

    Don Watson has delivered to us a much needed text to redirect our path forward in enhancement of communication Just kidding But I did discover that I really need to clean up my language I've fallen prey to exactly what this book is about Mainly that in our world it seems like it'sbetter to speak in buzzwords and cliches because there can be no argument with words that have no meaning at their core I really enjoyed this book Watson has a great writing style and I found it pretty funny I always feel like a nerd when I laugh loudly reading books like this I'd like everyone I know to read this Failing that I'll just have to change the way I speak email text and write We have to start somewhere right? At the very least I'll never use the word enhance again As Watson writes that is the way with enhancements—often they don't amount to anything at all It's just that the word enhancement has become irresistible like ice cream or chicken pox Enhance is the McDonald's of corporate EnglishThis book has helped me to appreciate the extent of my own sins in terms of language and communication It was saddening how much of the managerial language and jargon I understood as if it has become a second language to me which it nearly has Read this book If you need some reasons to read it I'll leave you with some of the pithy things Watson had to sayPowerPoint as Edward R Tufte of Harvard says 'allows speakers to pretend they are giving a real talk and audiences to pretend they are listening' It is he says 'a prankish conspiracy against substance and thought' and may even lead to a decline in cognitive abilities The power of The Book of Common Prayer or the King James Bible lies not in its antiuity but in the conviction that the words convey An atheist can still be moved entertained and enlightened by them You can enjoy the feel of them in your mouth like a sacrament As well as any those works illustrate how public language should be an elevated language it should manifest — and honor — the traditions of the culturePlain writing need not be lifeless writing political practitioners are prone to believe their own bullshit But most chilling was that again I am presented with the phrase that haunts my dreams In the midst of life we are in death I read it for the first time in Uncle Tom's Cabin

  9. says:

    I made it through two thirds of the book before I had to give up While the premise is interesting and there is clear evidence that the author is deft with words the book as a whole is unclear and meandering It's as though the author was so intent on crafting sentences that the paragraphs sections and chapters got ignoredI enjoyed the few examples where specific sentences were reworked and there were valid points made the dangers of management speak and its creep toward ubiuity but the lack of structure and focus made the book unreadable

  10. says:

    Though the author beats the subject to death and then some his points are very valid and ever increasing Too much of public and corporate language is about using cliches and business speak I keep this book as a recommendation for friends who are trying to avoid changing new paradigms and circling back on our key initiatives The we all use real words the better we'll all be at talking to each other