Moneychanging in my temple

The journey of the English language is much like a walk through modern Detroit. It evolves, but never comes through history unscathed. However, of late some of the scathing is beginning to offend my delicate sensibilities.

I’m pretty disgusted at some of what the Oxford Dictionary people have now decided is all right. They have evidently decided, for example, that ‘literally’ (a word we very badly need to separate wild metaphor from candid description) really does also mean ‘very,’ since enough people misused it long enough. That’s basically the equivalent of deciding that if men can’t hit the urinal, we’ll just remove the urinal and let them miss the toilet instead. However, they aren’t the most annoying abusers of the language. Even the text generation, with ‘ur’ for ‘your’ and ‘lol’ used as a comma, aren’t the worst. They are like copious spitters on the sidewalk, throwers of chewing gum on it, and occasional urinators in the alley. They make English gross and crude, like the floor of a baseball dugout, but they aren’t really doing much damage.

The business-speak word coiners aren’t even the worst. I hate to say it, but they aren’t even that awful. I’m talking about stuff like morphing ‘downsizing’ to ‘rightsizing,’ or addiction to words like ‘best practices.’ Most of it is baloney, but the baloney is mostly heard and believed by its inventors, who do not usually take it out into polite society where it could offend cultured persons. This is like butchers putting filler into the ground meat products: it lowers the overall quality of English a bit, but rarely poisons anyone.

No, the most irritating is made-up vaguely positive-sounding terms used as the actual names of corporations. Thrivent. Meritage. Exelon. Centene. Qwest. Visteon. Agilent. Actavis. Exelis. Altria. Viacom. Aramark. Meritain. Verizon. Navistar. Celgene. Entergy. Taligent. Cingular.

Credit to JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Electronic Arts, Monsanto and even AT&T, a rogues’ gallery of the vilest: at least their names are real words that refer to some real thing, person, etc.

These invented words go into the public mind and manipulate it, and cannot be extracted. They are goosing English in the crowded bus when they know there’s very little she can do about it, molesting her dignity and personal space. They are created by people who want to create a fiction in the public mind, hopefully one at variance with the truth (that the company only cares about quality and service if faults in those areas cause corporate harm). Don’t think that corporate invented-names are picked by employee contests. No, some very sophisticated psychological and literary sellouts get involved. Above a certain level of social control, accidents become very few.

This is crap. ‘Cingular?’ Really? ‘Thrivent?’ Seriously? ‘Meritain?’

I want to say “They cannot be serious,” but I’d be wrong. They can. They are.


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