Mind your language

I don’t speak ‘disk’.

When I play a DVD, the first 30 seconds are invariably taken up with over-worded warnings that I (and I guess most people) never read. If I try to fast-forward, it tells me the ‘operation is prohibited by disk.’ Later on, it reminds me that ‘resume playback is prohibited at this point.’

The DVD makes me feel like I’m doing something unlawful.

Over formality of language is everywhere. I’d be more comfortable knowing a train would simply finish its journey, rather than ‘terminate.’ That passengers should not get off the moving train, rather than not ‘alight’ (be on fire?) while the train is in motion. And is there really a ‘travelling chef?’

The train leaves me feeling a little patronised.

Some language is simply inconsistent. Why do we pronounce the year 1900 as nineteen hundred, whereas 2000 is two thousand, not twenty hundred? So 1950 should either be nineteen and a half hundred or one thousand nine hundred and fifty. But we have a third variation – ‘nineteen fifty.’ When people call 2014 ‘two fourteen,’ it’s just chaos. Seldom means pretty much the same as rare, but when asked how you want your steak in a restaurant, ‘seldom’ doesn’t work. I want it underdone, not infrequent.

That just leaves me feeling pedantic.

And some language is just wrong. World Cup commentators tell us that a footballer is ‘literally on fire’, ‘literally dead on their feet’, or ‘literally tearing up the field’. They are none of these things; at least, not literally.

I find that annoying.

It’s important to use the right words in the right context, with a medium that suits the audience. It has an effect on how we feel about the message we receive and what we do about it. We feel included, or excluded. In the pensions industry we all use acronyms and abbreviations, for example: ‘HMT and FCA consult with ABI about whether TPAS and MAS should deliver the GG and the role of IFAs and CBCs working with SMEs on their GPPs and TBPs.’

For most people that’s just confusing.

I also read in a report on improving the savings culture that “the pensions and savings arena is a blizzard of complexity, jargon and meaningless terminology; perfect material for obfuscation and bamboozlement.” Someone else said what we needed in pensions was ‘dejargonisation.’

I think the choice of words in both cases was deliberate. It left me feeling amused.

But I agree with the sentiment. We need to get better at communicating things.

In my opinion, this simply means we should be mindful of how the things we say make people feel.