Lies, damned lies

August 27, 2014 § 9 Comments

I’ve never been a huge fan of neurolinguistic programming (NLP). Apart from the fact that it’s been shown to be pseudoscience, it always felt fake to me, certainly in the form it was preached: standing in front of a mirror and repeating things until you believed them. I’m just too cynical for that.

But the armchair sociolinguist in me suspects that its popularity as an idea has had far-reaching consequences on the way we use language. No-one has problems anymore, only challenges or opportunities. People don’t die , they pass away, pass on, and in a deeply ambiguous phrasing, go home. Companies restructure, which is just a way of saying a lot of people will be losing their jobs. Others aren’t unemployed, they’re just between jobs. And Gwyneth Paltrow must take the cake, of course, with her “conscious uncoupling” from Chris Martin.

There are places, of course, where these rephrases are positive, I think. I think ‘sex worker’ is a more honest term than ‘prostitute’, which comes with all kinds of stigma. I also think ‘disabled’, instead of words like ‘crippled’ or ‘retarded’, has definite benefits.

But on the whole, what I see is the overt use of language to sanitise unpleasant concepts. Traditionally all languages and cultures use euphemism to discuss taboo subjects: sex and bodily functions come to mind. But I think the combination of NLP and its cousin, political correctness, means we’ve moved far beyond the scope of euphemism.

We’ve taken it one step further: we simply manipulate words in a concerted way – on purpose – until they sound like something that’s excusable, understandable, quite acceptable really. So we didn’t kill innocent civilians in that war we were waging. It was just collateral damage

What amazes me, though, is that we all know it’s bullshit. We know what’s really meant. And yet, so often we just roll our eyes and join in, upholding the status quo. More fake words in a world that seems to celebrate fakeness more and more every day.

I think it’s time to start changing our language – not in an NLP sense, but in the sense of calling a spade a spade. I’m tired of ‘fake it till you make it’. I’m tired of fake in general. I’m tired of the dishonesty we see in the papers every day, from people at all levels in society. It’s exhausting.

And I firmly believe that until we begin to be honest in the way we speak – and think – about things, the state of the world will only get worse. Sugar-coating the facts doesn’t change them – it’s just a sophisticated way to lie.


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§ 9 Responses to Lies, damned lies

  • Di Brown says:

    Oh thank you for writing this.We are living in a world gone mad! We all speak the language of no accountability,everything is justified by a ridiculous phrase. Do we ever sit back and listen to ourselves. To quote comedian Billy Connelly “political correctness is the language of cowards” I agree. The #consious uncoupling” took the cake. Really!
    A society that commits and is exposed to horrific atrocities daily, can surely handle plain speaking.
    You rock!


  • charliesbird says:

    I’ve been faking it for years, and I’m still not making it…


  • Reblogged this on Allaboutwriting and commented:
    Mandy Collins on the use of language and calling a spade a spade –


  • Susan Scott says:

    Couldn’t agree more Mandy … pass on? What? Collateral damage? I remember Madeleine Albright saying that about the Iraq war I think it was …Strange how we collude in this …


  • So well said. Tired of the ‘sugar coating’ that language has become!


  • Jan FitzGerald says:

    Right on, Mandy, though in Australia people have been calling a spade a bloody spade for bloody ages


  • kaeleer says:

    Reblogged this on Loud Mouthed Chick and commented:
    One of my favourite bloggers has done a particularly thought-provoking piece on the use (and misuse) of language. Do have a look.


  • mariekeates says:

    Along with the politically correct nanny state it’s one of the most annoying things in my opinion. In a meeting recently we were told we could no longer use the term brainstorm because it might be offensive to epileptics. For goodness sake! I’m an epileptic myself and I wanted to laugh, or maybe cry at the stupidity of it all. Whatever next? Am I soon going to be labeled electronically challenged?


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