A lot of what I do professionally is to find forms of words that make unpleasant-sounding things, sometimes cruel and brutal things sound like business as usual, or at least only benign variations to how we’ve always done things. Reassurance is the key quality to these forms of words; every single syllable has a harmony cooing “don’t worry” provided by administrative choristers.
Partly this is for the benefit of those inside the building, rhetorically putting the health and wellbeing of employees at the forefront of management concerns. Even if these reassurances aren’t believed they serve the purpose of evading a conversation about whether employees are valued and if proper care is taken with that most valuable of assets, human capital.
Almost every strategic plan and change management solution has this box for ticking. For management this gesture is almost a note to self: don’t shoot yourself in the foot, keep the lower decks happy. But human capital, like the other kinds, can be replaced. It can be borrowed, granted, hired, acquired, leased, and outsourced. Keeping the lower decks happy is not complicated; barbeques and barefoot bowls will usually do the job. Human capital comes and goes, the beast lives on regardless.
The form of words is also designed to not spook the customers. To keep the customer largely unaware of the back office and pretty sure that whatever they heard about what goes on in there is inconsequential and not relevant to them anyway. The client facing bits and pieces of the enterprise are always changing, always improving, to give the impression that the customer is getting the best of everything. In practice this means signage and comfy chairs and muzak.
There’s the ample space to fight all of this, to push back on the banality and stupidity. To proffer forms of words that might lead to consequential improvements in how things are done, or the spirit in which they are done. Mainly it doesn’t happen. We look at the words, at the statements and minutes and marketing, and we get distracted by the minutiae.
Critics become apostrophe fascists. Thinkers point out shifts in tense and run-on sentences. Logicians become incorrigibly fussy about dangling participles. People known to be thoughtful and generous colleagues can be heard putting the boot in about who vs. whom, or since and because. Failed poets endlessly needle regarding irony and coincidence. Former journalists snort with disdain about the misuse of nauseous. Nothing excites the back office lunchroom like bad grammar, except perhaps executive licentiousness.
I’ve been party to this: I’ve sat at my desk and done tracked changes on marketing documents that point out every individual moment of grammatical imprecision. It sometimes appears that this is done for fun, making play with the fallibilities of collective editing and institutional authorship. It is fun, no doubt. But it is also the wrong battle.
The form of words is cover. Cover for actual, dollar and cents based, decision-making that affects people inside the building and out. When we attack forms of words we only attack at the gates, we throw ourselves in the moat and try to float. There is no material result from these, the actions go on, the thing done is done regardless of where the apostrophe goes, or if the Vice-Principal has somehow become the vice principle. Dissent is more than fucking with sentences.