The first in a series of articles about effective writing for businesses and organisations, used with kind permission from Rod Sweet.
Rod is a brilliant writer and construction journalist we’ve known for many years. He, like us, has a ‘thing’ about good writing and how it can affect the reader’s ability to understand and form opinions of what is being written. If you want to write better bids or reports that people can understand, Rod’s advice is crucial. This piece is the first in a series he’ll be sharing on LinkedIn over the coming weeks. Rod writes…
I’ve long been fascinated by small innovations in speech that go viral and stay so long after they’ve been mocked as buzzwords, ticks and clichés.
I think it was Autumn 2010 when I noticed that people had started saying “So,” to preface the answer to a question.
After 25 years, “going forward” still stalks the land.
More recently, everyone became “passionate” about everything. And a current verbal tick of UK politicians is “up and down the country”.
Most of them could probably get through an interview just by repeating “So, I am passionate about going forward up and down the country” again and again, and hardly anyone would notice.
The bureaucratic and business worlds are petrie dishes for buzzwords, ticks and clichés.
People I hardly know are forever plaintively “reaching out” to me about the most mundane matters.
Companies no longer “do” things, instead, they “are going to be focused on” them.
Nor does one organisation just work with another; invariably, they “are working closely with” one another, when, really, we know that if the people involved are in any way normal, they’re probably working together haphazardly, negligently, reluctantly.
Force of nature
At some point in the last three years, someone said: “issues around”, as in, “we’re looking into the issues around remote working”, and now everybody says it, all the time.
The weird thing about this tick, and all buzzwords, ticks and clichés, is that it’s not easy to identify the original expression the tick supplanted.
If you didn’t say “issues around”, what would you say? “Issues about”? That doesn’t sound right. “The issues pertaining to”? “Remote working and its attendant issues”? None of those sound right either.
Here’s the thing: there was no original expression that “issues around” replaced. We’d have just said, “we’re looking into remote working”.
We didn’t need to mention the “issues” of remote working because it was a given that there were issues. If there were not, we wouldn’t be looking into it.
But we always want to make things sound grander. It’s a force of nature, the way water will always find the next level down.
So somebody, somewhere, perceived the utility of separating out the idea of the “issues” of whatever, and giving that idea its own special place in the trophy cabinet of discourse.
And, having followed the impulse artificially to emphasise the existence of “issues”, the person said it, and then had to think of a word that would link it to the thing about which there were issues, and out popped “around”, which kind of works and has a bit of a ring.
It’s a novel formulation that bolsters the impression of urbane, cutting-edge erudition.
We now have a new abstraction that, while completely unnecessary, sounds more grown-up and important than the way we talked before.
Imagine three years ago, when nobody said: “issues around”. How did we manage?
Why they take off
Buzzwords, ticks and clichés stick because they conjure up a mental image that wasn’t there before, one that gains currency right away, and can’t be replaced.
It’s why “going forward” is still with us. What did we used to say? “In the future”? No, that’s too passive compared to the attack conveyed by “going forward”.
“From here on in”? Too folksy.
What about “from now on”? No! Too heavy. Too much like a promise, and maybe suggests guilt.
“Going forward” is just right for doing what we didn’t think necessary before: routinely abstracting out the watershed moment between the old then and the new now, without committing to anything too specific.
Dead spots on the page…