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Take back those words

Melody KempMelody Kemp lives in Laos. Her previous piece for Webdiary was Burma Goes Ballistic

by Melody Kemp

The ABC solemnly reported one night that Keith Urban thought his time in rehab. was the most ‘impactful’ time he had ever had. At least in the text that flowed across the bottom of the screen, the ABC had had the tact to add ‘sic’ after Urban’s neologism.

If one was a health worker, this statement could be interpreted as meaning that the food at the no doubt horribly exclusive and expensive centre, lacking in fibre, had blocked our Nic's bloke’s bowels. ‘Impacted’ when I was training all those years ago, was every nurse’s nightmare, and like impacted wisdom teeth, meant intransigent, dug in, unable to be moved except by ‘procedures’.

Later when I did a masters in tropical public health, a lecturer who we all held dear, Professor Frank Schofield who had spent much of his life in Africa, warned us against creeping militarism in language. I made a promise to myself, and to him, that I would guard against the army of camouflaged words. But I am now facing a veritable tidal wave of ‘targets’ ‘impacts’ ‘triggered’ and ‘bullet points’.

ABC newsreaders trip off volleys of "impacted upon"’s, forgetting that ‘effected’ is plainer and sounds less clumsy. Is it only us pedestrian pedants in print that care about language?

Robert Fisk spurred me on, when he wrote about the new lexicon of language used in particular by the Pentagon. We have endured waves of psychobabble some of which still infect Australian journalists who mindlessly talk about ‘achieving closure’ and ‘coming to terms with’, without having a clue about the real longevity of pain and grief. How do Iraqis ‘gain closure’ on the loss of their families, or ‘come to terms’ with the fact that they have been colonized, aided and abetted by their Vichy-like co-conspirators?

The government of Australia is fond of using the word ‘reform’ to describe its socially retrogressive actions. I used to think that reform was a positive thing, and marked significant improvements, indeed ‘moving forward’ (as opposed to doing a crabwalk sideways). The neo-Dickensian and classically fascist industrial relations law was politely parroted as being a ‘reform’ by my friends in the media who should know better. Change, like progress is not always linear and not always positive. Impending company tax ‘reform’ that will make the already rich richer, is not a reform. It is another pillar of fascism.

And while some words take on alternative lives, others like the word ‘partisan’ die, except for ‘partisan politics’ which is nasty, to be avoided at all costs, as if the Labour and Coalition parties are not seen to agree, they might scare the horses.

My family were Spanish socialists. I should not brag about that, as they lost. But in those days, going overseas or to another country, to fight for an ideal, was to be a partisan and to be admired, romanticized, courted by artists, and writers. Now it's orange jumpsuits and terrorist charges. French partisans were stubbly warriors, smoking Gauloises Disc Bleu, not ‘madmen’, ‘cowards’ or ‘terrorists’. Yet again this word ‘terrorist’ like ‘insurgent’ is used with a sneer, a curled lip and sanctimony, and cleverly not linked with Israeli tanks pushing over houses or US troops destroying an ancient city and raping and then killing young girls, or staging unauthorised raids into a neighbouring country such as what happened in the nation in which I now live. Neither do we hear the words ‘anti colonial’ forces to describe those who attack US soldiers and their ‘imperialist lapdogs’ Just thought I’d throw in some of that to remind us.

The Prime Miniature is fond of accusing the Opposition of ‘playing politics’, when that is what we pay them for … maybe they should be playing marbles? I am offended that they are accused of ‘playing’ and not working at politics.

The other one I like is ‘failed state’. This refers to the outcome of a series of Australian economic and foreign policy balls ups, which manage to turn once proud self-managing nations into corrupt clients, and is of course, ‘their fault’. That is, after selling them enough Fosters to wean them off customary sedative drinks like Kava, and enough Arnotts biscuits to send up national blood sugar levels. Then we have to send in ‘aid’ in the form of soldiers, police and other sensitive diplomatic souls just so they remember who has the power and the Steyrs. Paternalism in action.

Then there are all the Jobspeak words, like ‘best practice’. Insinuating that the nadir has already been reached. Is there room for ‘almost best practice’ or ‘learner best practice’ or ‘better practice than best practice was last week’? On the rare occasions when I am in Australia I read the job ads, and simply cannot understand what the person actually is required to do? Does ‘a challenging job at the leading edge of resource management’ mean keeping up the supply of coffee in the store room?

So now I will go and ‘download’ a glass of wine and be a ‘key stakeholder’ in watching a fabulous Mekong sunset.

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Pay to play

Hi Melody.

Excuse this comment but your name, Melody is so lovely. In tune with life is my mental image. Enjoy also your use of the language, very entertaining. More please!

Reform as spun (neologism? ) by politicians  - Howard a specialist - is truly disgusting. Bonsai is a contemptible little Bush, extracted from a nasty place, the Liberal Party the derriere of Australian politics.

Must disagree with the statement that we pay them to play politics. We don't. We pay them alright but please comment on my Role of an MP thread. It's the playing when we pay them that has to stop. To me that is the big issue in government today, regardless of which Party is stuffing up.

"Best practice" has always been a cover for incompetence. I had the experience of working on an ATO Australia wide project and had to absorb all that bullshit. Didn't swallow it but had to listen to it. Best practice has always meant what works best. Simple isn't it Melody.

What are your KPI's for the download of a glass or two? My mind wants to puke.

Here's another bit of enlightenment that project management BS dropped on us. "Never use the word assume".  Why? Because it makes and ASS out of U and ME. Yuk.

Failed State couldn't agree more on. I wrack is such a debacle of course. WIll JWH stand alone? Next to Alex Clowner, in the mess, so to speak? Timor, Fiji, Solomons. Deputy John is running out of towns to be run out of.

Enough 2 Party barracking.

CIA impact

Hi Melody, and thank you for becoming a Webdiary contributor. I received this on topic book blurb from Scribe last week. Feel like reviewing it after a couple of reds? Anyone else? Let us know at editor@webdiary.com.au and I'll get a copy sent to you.


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