‘It’s dog eat dog in this rat race.’
‘We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.’
‘I hope to come first or second, or at least to win it.’
The information superhighway brings more text to our door than ever before. It’s just that most of it gets mangled along the way.
Twenty years ago, Harold Scruby’s Manglish became an instant bestseller. This version expands on the consummate mangles of the original, with all-new Scrubyisms and recent classics from the shame files of the Plain English Foundation.
Modern Manglish explores the traditional linguistic traps of mixed metaphors and mispronunciation, new words and old clichés, and euphemisms, tautologies, and jargon. It also exposes the latest Manglish in serially offending professions such as politics, business, and the law. When exactly did we all become ‘stakeholders seeking to leverage our paradigms to achieve best-practice scenarios moving forward’? Alongside these are the newest contenders for the Manglish crown, ranging from sports talk to silly signs, and from food speak to fancy-pants job titles.
For your delectation and perhaps chagrin here are the worst excesses of Manglish, illustrated by Australia’s premier editorial cartoonist, Alan Moir.
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About the Author
Neil James was born in Cooma and educated in Sydney, where he completed a doctorate in English while working as an editor and a book reviewer. In 2003, Neil established the Plain English Foundation with Dr Peta Spear to improve the quality of Australian public language. The foundation has since trained some 10,000 professionals. Neil chairs the International Plain Language Working Group and features regularly in the media throughout Australia. His books include Modern Manglish (with Harold Scruby) and Writing at Work , and he has published more than 70 articles, reviews, and essays on language and literature.
Harold ‘Haitch’ Scruby was born in Singapore and educated in Sydney. During his 25 years in the rag trade, he wrote two books: Waynespeak and Manglish. He spent eight years on Mosman Council as a councillor and deputy mayor. In 1996, he became chairman of the not-for-profit Pedestrian Council of Australia. Harold is a passionate crusader for pedestrians, particularly ‘walking families moving forward’, and the executive director of Ausflag Limited, which wants the jack removed from the Australian flag. He has written articles for Australia’s leading newspapers, and his favourite quip is one of Jerry Seinfeld’s: ‘I love the Australian flag … Britain at night.’
Alan Moir was born and educated in New Zealand, and moved to Australia in the early 1970s. He has been an editorial cartoonist for The Bulletin and The Courier-Mail , and is now an editorial cartoonist for The Sydney Morning Herald. Alan has published several books, and his work is held in collections in Australia and overseas. He has won the Stanley Award for Editorial Cartoonist of the Year six times, as well as the Walkley Award for Excellence in Journalism in 2000 and 2006. He was runner-up in the United Nations Correspondents Association Ranan Lurie Political Cartoon Award in 2004.
Caroline Jones AO is a journalist and author old enough to have learned grammar and spelling at Murrurundi Central School. Her grandfather, Ashley Pountney, was the first editor of the Quirindi Advocate , The Murrurundi Times , and the Werris Creek Express , so she has ink in her veins and the hard heart of a subeditor of the old school. Her latest book takes its title from the King James translation of the Bible, Through a Glass Darkly. She remains Twitter-illiterate.
Read an Excerpt
Modern Manglish: Gobbledygook Made Plain
By Neil James, Harold Scruby, Alan Moir
Scribe Publications Pty LtdCopyright © 2011 Neil James, Harold Scruby, and Alan Moir
All rights reserved.
DOUBLESPEAK AND VERBING
Unremarkably, languages grow or die. To keep them relevant and effective, we are constantly coining new terms for new concepts, changing the meanings of words, and altering the way in which others function. Think for a moment about the evolving application of the word 'gay':
Boys and girls come out to play, happy and gay the Laxette way.
Laugh, Kookaburra; laugh, Kookaburra; gay your life must be.
The children and the kookaburra in these ditties were initially simple, joyous, and cheerful beings, until the shifting meaning of 'gay' gave them a sexual preference. And now we are even turning them into something uncool. When a certain politician tried to lecture his daughter about drugs, she told him not to be such a 'lame, gay, churchy loser'.
At times, these changes in meaning introduce negative connotations. Being 'sinister' used to mean simply left-handed, while 'sly' originally meant clever. 'Awful' once only inspired awe rather than being terrible, something 'artificial' had true artistic value, and even a 'pirate' was originally a small (not necessarily in stature) businessman. The process can also happen in reverse: something 'terrific' used to cause genuine terror, a 'brave' person was actually uncivilised, and being 'nice' meant that you were ignorant.
The great democratic glory of English is that the broader community ends up deciding if particular words will change their meaning. But if we want that democracy to function well, it shouldn't mean that anything goes.
There is a line not to cross. Stepping over that line leads to Manglish.
Manglish begins when we deliberately set out to give words new meanings in order to make them fancier, soften a harsher reality, or paper over something unpleasant. This is the Manglish of doublespeak. Here are some examples:
Aspirational time horizon
Career transition program
Civilian irregular defence staff
Deployment of forces
Cut out the middle man
Investment in human capital
Imprisonment without trial
The rich seam of doublespeak runs so abundantly through the strata of Manglish — from euphemisms and suitspeak to mission statements and fancy-pants job titles — that we'll be mining it further in several dedicated chapters.
While we remain on guard against the latest doublespeak, there is another process to watch out for: verbing. This coinage takes a perfectly good noun and turns it, unnecessarily, into a verb.
Sports commentators and journalists are very good at this process, probably because they desperately try to think of new ways to describe what are essentially the same actions. An Australian newspaper recently decided to accept 'medal' as a verb:
Anton Ohno can become the most medalled American Winter Olympian in the 1000m.
Perhaps it was following the lead of the UK Olympic team:
The team includes athletes who have medalled at Olympic, World, and European level, so this is an exciting proposition for the Games.
But it took swimming and skiing commentators to come up with these:
She hasn't won an event this season, but has podiumed a couple of times.
Her form has been so good, I'm sure that she'll podium tonight. Remember that she silvered in Athens.
Of course, some of these new verbal coinages catch on. For instance, 'texting' has become useful to describe sending an instant message by mobile phone. In this case, 'text' already had some history as a verb. In the 16th century, it meant 'to cite text' or 'to write text in-hand'. Those uses became rare or obsolete, so 'text' humbly reverted to a noun. Now 'texting' with a mobile phone simply resurrects the verb form in a new context.
'Medalling' may already be a lost cause, but it's hard to see 'podiuming' taking on. And there are others that we should resist:
To antique ('We went antiquing on the weekend.')
To auralise ('He couldn't auralise the instruments.')
To best ('I bested him at squash.')
To boomerang ('The plan boomeranged on us.')
To bottom-line ('He did not bottom-line the budget.')
To ceiling ('The prices ceilinged around June.')
To contemporise ('Let's contemporise these events.')
To contracept ('He had no idea of contracepting.')
To diagram ('Can you diagram that idea for me?')
To diarise ('I forgot to diarise the appointment!')
To dollarise ('If I could dollarise the project ...')
To expense ('We can expense this lunch.')
To gift ('Gran gifted me more socks.')
To green-light ('Let's green-light this proposal.')
To grow ('We are growing the business.')
To guest ('I'm guesting on that program again.')
To harsh ('Stop harshing all my ideas.')
To incentivate ('We'll incentivate our employees.')
To incentivise ('Cash bonuses incentivise workers.')
To keyboard ('Can you keyboard this for me?')
To offline ('We should offline this discussion.')
To schematise ('Scientists schematised the various experiments.')
To springboard ('That springboarded my career.')
To strategise ('Let's strategise our solution to this problem.')
To synergise ('We'll synergise our processes.')
To tenant ('We've tenanted the place for six months.')
To value-add ('The new version doesn't value-add existing products.')
To verbal ('Police verballed him.')
To verbalise ('Make sure you verbalise your issues.')
To verse ('Who are you versing this weekend?')
To vocalise ('I want you to vocalise your concerns.')
To waste ('He was accused of wasting a gang member.')CHAPTER 2
TAUTOLOGIES AND OTHER REDUNDANCIES
Tautologies are the greatest breeding ground for Manglish. It is here that politicians and priests, sports commentators and corporate leaders, all sink proudly into the mire, blissfully unaware of their excesses. Indeed, so great is their hubris that they are not averse to repeating their errors in the belief that rep-etition can only reinforce their words.
Probably the best example is those who leave their phones permanently on voicemail with the message: 'I'm currently unavailable at the moment. I'm either on the phone, away from my desk, or busy defying gravity.' Who cares? And why do they compound a tautology with such superfluous nonsense? We know that they are unavailable because they didn't answer.
A tautology, needless to say, is the repetition of an idea or a statement using other words. For example:
He did a lot of running with his legs today.
Not that it got him very far:
He's missed two caught and bowled opportunities – both off his own bowling.
And who was he, anyway?
If I keep getting Boyd and O'Grady mixed up it's because they look so alike, particularly around the head.
And here is a mind-boggling fact from another sports commentator:
The stadium is close to capacity – as far as full is concerned.
But there is nothing like a positive outlook, and here sports commentators seem to excel:
A boxer makes a comeback for one of two reasons: either he's broke or he needs the money.
Here he is. Yesterday's winner. The man who won yesterday.
If we were talking positively, I can't see no reason why Christie can't get a medal.
I'm going to make a prediction – it could go either way.
I really expect it to go one way or the other tonight.
Of course, one of [snooker player] Stephen Hendry's greatest assets is his ability to score when he's playing.
It was a goal of really simple simplicity.
And seen from the competitor's view:
I hope to come first or second, or at least win it.
Then there was the sprinter who told us:
My personal best time was better than my best.
And one final word from our competitors:
We're very pleased about the way we played because we know we can play like that.
Right. The Manglish of sport is so highly developed that we'll be giving it a whole chapter later on. For now, we can get away from sport to some examples we found from other fields, such as this:
London isn't the largest city, but it's definitely larger than the next largest.
And what is the best way to appreciate this vast metropolis?
You only have to fly over it or go in a helicopter.
We heard an earnest young graduate say in a meeting:
We need to prevent this happening again at some point of time in the future.
And from a Sydney meteorologist:
It's been raining for eight consecutive days in a row.
One famous political leader announced after an election:
We didn't win, but we didn't lose.
And another well-known politician who had an unenviable reputation for tautologies came up with the following:
It's all summed up in the crux of one situation.
Queensland is not prepared to put its feet on the sticking paper and be stuck with it.
We stick like glue and we work like glue.
We won't be able to sit on uranium. Firstly because it would not be right, and secondly because it would be wrong.
Other utterances of the great man included:
We have to get the status quo back to what it was before.
The secret of my success is that I don't beat around the bush and say exactly what I mean.
But perhaps one of the most frequent and unconscious tautologies of all is the phrase 'I'm going to go.'
There are many other tautologies, admittedly less spectacular, which have found a permanent home in our language. The following are just some of the tautologies that are daily occurrences. Believe us.
Actual thing itself
As near as near
Back back straight into another car
The bargain basement downstairs
Circle around the block
Come back again
The current climate at the moment
Each of you individually
An essential prerequisite
Exactly the same thing
The extra thing I have added is
Filthy dirty pig
Greetings and salutations
I have experienced this before
I'll just clean up the mess
In a row one after another
Internationally around the world
It gave me some bad adverse effects
It was cut into two halves
I used to do that before
Join together in unison
Kills flies and cockies dead
Last will and testament
Letter in writing
Lob the ball high up into the air
Meaningless mission statement
My ancestors were original First Fleeters
My own car
Nationally around the country
Null and void
Old, outdated material
One and the same
The other alternative
Pregnant with child
A preliminary preamble
Raging out of control
Returning for a comeback
Rural and regional
So incredible I could scarcely believe it
The sum total
There's no need for undue worry
A true fact
Unique, never-to-be-repeated offer
Vacuous vision statement
Watch the vision
When I first founded the company
Wholly new innovation
4.00 a.m. in the morning
6.00 p.m. in the eveningCHAPTER 3
CLICK GO THE CLICHÉS
A cliché is an expression so worn out that it offers almost no meaning. It is a regular favourite of all Manglish speakers because it saves time and effort. While there is probably nothing wrong with an occasional cliché, overuse means that we end up letting our clichés do our thinking for us. As George Orwell observed, we assemble a sentence much like a prefabricated henhouse.
Politicians are particularly adept at verbal henhouses. They learn early that clichés give the appearance of saying something without committing to anything:
I believe that the government had lost its way, and I intend to have a conversation with the Australian people so that we can canvass the best ways to move forward and all work together in the national interest.
This all sounds positive enough. But what will it actually deliver?
Perhaps the worst crime of the cliché is that it is oh-so-predictable and oh-so-boring. Admittedly, it is hard to come up with fresh phrases and images every day. So the cliché waits eagerly for its opportunity to leap onto the page.
Cliché One: the overworked phrase
The first category of cliché is the easiest to turn to when you must say something but have nothing to offer. Just add conjunctions.
All things being equal
Best thing since sliced bread
Better late than never
Boys will be boys
Burn the midnight oil
Conspicuous by one's absence
Dose of your own medicine
Easier said than done
Going around in circles
Heart of gold
I'd give my right arm
Just like Mother used to make
Keep your shirt on
Last but not least
Lay down the law
Let's get the show on the road
Life wasn't meant to be easy
Moment you've been waiting for
More than meets the eye
No rest for the wicked
Off the beaten track
Out of sight, out of mind
Point of no return
Powers that be
Put your money where your mouth is
Road to perdition
Second to none
See light at the end of the tunnel
Short and sweet
Shoulder to cry on
Show must go on
Sight for sore eyes
Slave over a hot stove
Through thick and thin
To cut a long story short
Too good to be true
Two's company, three's a crowd
Water under the bridge
With all due respect
You can't win 'em all
You took the words right out of my mouth
Cliché Two: the threadbare quotation
While overused phrases can 'slip under your radar', the threadbare quotation is easier to detect. Users of these clichés are often convinced that they are displaying great erudition by quoting from fable and folklore, from biblical and literary genius.
All's fair in love and war
All things must pass
An apple a day keeps the doctor away
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
Blood is thicker than water
Blood, sweat, and tears
Cast pearls before swine
Don't count your chickens before they hatch
The early bird catches the worm
A fool and his money are soon parted
A friend in need is a friend indeed
The fruits of one's labours
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned
Hope springs eternal
Labour of love
Land of milk and honey
Lend me your ears
Like two ships passing in the night
Milk of human kindness
More sinned against than sinning
Necessity is the mother of invention
Neither a borrower nor a lender be
No man is an island
Not with a bang but a whimper
A picture paints a thousand words
A pound of flesh
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Still waters run deep
Survival of the fittest
There, but for the grace of God, go I
Time heals all wounds
To thine own self be true
Truth is stranger than fiction
The tyranny of distance
When in Rome, do as the Romans do
Without further ado
Worth one's weight in gold
Cliché Three: the frayed figure of speech
Our final category of cliché compares something with an example, mostly via the verb 'to be' or a linking word such as 'like' or 'as'. Whenever someone coins a fresh simile or metaphor, we all leap on it until it gets old and stale. The worst examples hang around like a bad smell, much as limpets cling to a rock:
It's a dog's life
It's a small world
Lap of luxury
Life and soul of the party
Life is just a bowl of cherries
Life's a bitch, and then you die
Like a bat out of hell
Load off my mind
Make a mountain out of a molehill
More than one way to skin a cat
My heart bleeds for you
The name of the game
Once in a blue moon
Par for the course
Pillar of society
Plenty more fish in the sea
Quick as a wink
Seize the bull by the horns
A shot in the dark
Skating on thin ice
The sky is the limit
Snake in the grass
Snug as a bug in a rug
Strike while the iron is hot
Thick as thieves
The tip of the iceberg
Tower of strength
Turning in her/his grave
Ugly as sin
Until hell freezes over
Until the cows come home
Warm the cockles of your heart
A whole new ball game
Work one's fingers to the bone
Excerpted from Modern Manglish: Gobbledygook Made Plain by Neil James, Harold Scruby, Alan Moir. Copyright © 2011 Neil James, Harold Scruby, and Alan Moir. Excerpted by permission of Scribe Publications Pty Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Doublespeak and Verbing 1
Tautologies and Other Redundancies 9
Click Go the Clichés 17
Mixed Metaphors 43
Euphemisms (or Youse-femisms) 49
To PC or Not to PC 57
Pollie Waffle 63
Legal(un)ese and Coptalk 71
Lost in Translation 79
Fancy-pants Job Titles 85
World's Worst Mission Statements 91
Strayan, New Zillund, and Yankspeak 97
Malaprops and General Manglish 123
Silly Signs 145
Manglish Christmas Carols 151