Kellaway recently wrote a column for the Financial Times that is the best thing I’ve read in a long time.
Before I stumbled over this piece via Twitter, I had never heard of Lucy Kellaway. Nor, I’m sure, has she ever heard of me. Sadly, it’s a valedictory column of a sort, in which she sums up her long and futile campaign against corporate codswallop.
“For nearly a quarter of a century,” she writes,* “I have been writing columns telling business people to stop talking rot. For the same amount of time they have been taking no notice.”
When she began, she believed corporate jargon had become so ridiculous that people would soon come to their senses and begin using plain English again. No such luck.
“Over the past two decades, two things have happened. Business bullshit has got a million per cent more bullshitty, and I’ve stopped predicting a correction in the marketplace.”
James Ralph was an 18th-century content creator, scratching out a living in England’s New Economy. In an age of political, social and technological upheaval, life could be precarious for those who kept the printing presses stoked with words.
Writing in 1758, Ralph said “there is no Difference between the Writer in his Garret, and the Slave in the Mines; but that the former has his Situation in the Air, and the latter in the Bowels of the Earth: Both have their Tasks assigned them alike: Both must drudge and starve; and neither can hope for Deliverance.”
The quote comes from The Age of Authors: An Anthology of Eighteenth-Century Print Culture, a remarkable collection of writing about writing and the plight of writers. Editor Paul Keen writes that Ralph was “often dismissed as a Grub Street hack writer,” but managed to produce some important work, including the essay quoted above.
The essay, The Case of Authors By Profession or Trade, Stated, marks the decline of the era when writers relied on patrons. The new commercial model of publishing was generating profits that were being denied to those slaves in the garrets, Ralph argued.
In the new world of letters, anyone, it seemed, could be an author – even women. (Anyone, that is, who belonged to the educated classes. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that the literacy rate in Great Britain rose above 60 per cent.)
David Beers is founding editor of The Tyee and Tom Barrett is a long time contributor to The Tyee and before that covered B.C. politics for the Vancouver Sun. Grateful thanks to other Tyee team members who assisted in compiling this list and checking its accuracy.
BOONDOGGLE: Air Christy
B.C.’s high-flying premier ran up more than half a million dollars in private jet flights during her first five years in office, at times managing to squeeze in Liberal party fundraisers among the government photo ops. On at least two occasions, Clark flew on jets chartered from companies owned by wealthy Liberal backers.
BOONDOGGLE: Stanley Cup Riot Report Topped $300K, No One to Blame
After the 2011 Stanley Cup riot, the government hired former Olympics boss John Furlong and Former Nova Scotia deputy attorney-general Doug Keefe to co-chair an inquiry. Their report was criticized for letting Canucks brass, senior bureaucrats, police and politicians off the hook. The inquiry did manage to go over its budget, though, running up a bill well over $300,000. Documents showed that Furlong billed for four hours of work the same day he spoke to the International Olympic Committee in South Africa….
The Tyee has just published the story below, which lists some of the more dubious elements of the British Columbia Liberal government’s record. I played a small part in creating it, along with David Beers and a bunch of other Tyee folks.
98 BC Liberal Falsehoods, Boondoggles and Scandals: The Campbell Era 45
Part one of 15 years of public messes, sourced and explained. If we forgot any, please remind us.
David Beers is founding editor of The Tyee and Tom Barrett is a long time contributor to The Tyee and before that covered B.C. politics for the Vancouver Sun. Grateful thanks to other members of the Tyee community who assisted in compiling this list and checking its accuracy.
[Editor’s note: Pipelines? Tax cuts? A free-range organic chicken in every pot? Elections are a great time to argue about policy options. Something all voters can agree on, however, is they’d prefer their government tell the truth, spend money responsibly, and avoid embarrassing breaches of ethics or the law. In B.C., one party has been in power for 15 years, more than enough time to reveal its proclivities. As an aid to voters, therefore, The Tyee researched the BC Liberal government’s record regarding falsehoods, boondoggles and scandals. We tallied 98 items and now invite readers to suggest more.
Some definitions are in order: By falsehood we mean promises broken or assertions that proved demonstrably untrue. By boondoggle we mean significant public money lost to waste, overruns, or ill-conceived initiatives. And by scandal we mean moments when government was revealed to have seriously broken rules or caused harm either deliberately or through neglect or incompetence. So please comb our list, and if you think we’ve missed one or two BC Liberal falsehoods, boondoggles or scandals over the years, drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: “Add this to the list.”
Today we begin with the years when Gordon Campbell was BC Liberal premier, from 2001 to 2010. Tomorrow we finish with the era of his successor Christy Clark, 2011 to now. Along the way we’ve tossed in a few sidebar items that don’t quite match any of our three categories, but did cause our eyes to roll. Do send items we may have missed. We promise to add any that fit our definitions. Next Monday we’ll then publish the entire list, spanning 2001 to today. So read closely and rack your memory. With your help we might end up topping 100.]
People are getting more information than they ever have, whether it’s in ink or electronically. People want to read, and they want to read without stumbling. And that’s where the copy editor comes in. The copy editor is the bridge who keeps the writer from tripping up.
You can find most anything online, including a million reasons to believe that most folks these days think clear writing went out with the Lindy Hop. But here – on the Internet! – is proof you don’t have to leave your readers stumbling around like a bunch of drunks in a sack race.
“I’m surprised and delighted that a word I made up in the 1980s to insult British indie rock stars has resurfaced in the context of 21st century US politics and the shitgibbon in the White House,” Quantick told Zimmer. “It’s bizarre and a very odd journey for a very silly word.”
From the irksome Mark E. Smith to a strange-haired delusionist strongman is indeed an odd journey. Let’s hope the Oxford folks are listening.
(By the way, I’m following Zimmer’s practice and dropping the hyphen from “shitgibbon.” As the Canadian Press Stylebook notes, “in North America, the tendency is to drop the hyphen as soon as a new compound becomes familiar.” I say it’s time we all got familiar with this exemplary bit of invective.)
It’s a key question, given the swarm of public opinion reports on the horizon. By Tom Barrett TheTyee.ca
In recent weeks, pollsters have asked us questions about UFOs, cyberscams, the coming federal election and Metro Vancouver’s transit plebiscite. But there’s one question many of us are asking the pollsters: Why should we believe you?
The 2013 B.C. election fail did for the polling industry what the Hindenburg did for the dirigible as the last word in air safety. Since then, pollsters have been struggling to find ways to better measure what we’re thinking.
For pollsters, there’s no money in asking questions about elections and releasing the numbers to the media. They do it as a marketing tool to attract clients who want to know what people think about, say, shampoo.
Because the numbers in marketing surveys are difficult to verify, calling elections correctly is one of the few ways pollsters can show they know their stuff. Calling elections correctly, however, is becoming increasingly difficult. And bum results don’t attract clients.
University of British Columbia political science professor Richard Johnston said he understands their plight. “If I were in the firms I would almost ask myself, ‘Is it worth it to be in the prediction business?'” he said.
But if pollsters quit doing public polls, voters are left with less information, said Johnston. Voters have a valid interest in knowing how their fellow citizens are going to vote because it allows them to decide how to vote most effectively, he said. “If you can’t make sense of the polling information, then what do you do?” Continue reading →
“Logocidal refers to the destruction or perversion of meaning, something deadly to reason and communication,” says Michael Quinion. “Newspeak in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was a logocidal creation since it was designed to limit what it was possible to think about or discuss.”
It’s another word that’s obscure almost to the point of nonexistence, but Guardian writer Marina Hyde appears to be fighting a single-handed battle to keep it alive. “She uses it for language that’s obfuscatory to the point of meaninglessness, the kind employed by politicians and public figures to avoid committing themselves…” says Quinion. A useful term, given the continuing epidemic of such banana oil.
And more hard truths about the use and abuse of modern opinion research.
By Tom Barrett TheTyee.ca
Election polls are fun. They can help you understand why politicians do and say the things they do. They can help you decide how to vote. And as long as the parties have access to polling, you should too.
But, as campaign polls proliferate like dandelions in April, they also become the source of a vast amount of the hooey that gets spewed by pundits.
Pollster Bob Penner has a long history of working for election campaigns. In a recent interview, he said the “literacy around polling” is pretty low.
Polling numbers naturally bounce around within their margin of error. “If you do the same method day after day, each day [the result] will be different,” said Penner, president and CEO of Stratcom. “That’s called sampling error.”
But if a pollster goes on TV and says the bouncing numbers are just sampling error, “he wouldn’t be on TV,” Penner said.
“So he’s got to construct a reason for why the numbers moved other than the probable real reason, which is just a natural variation in the polling method. So he says it’s because of the ads they ran today. Or it’s because of the media story that was on last night. Or it’s because this guy endorsed him. And that’s almost never true. It’s almost never the reason.
“But they’re out there saying it and people are at home consuming it and saying, ‘well, those ads really moved the numbers.’ ”