The Words We Regularly Use To Say Nothing Is Something – A Study in the travesty of reason

September 7, 2009


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I am writing this on the train – so let’s dive straight into the deep end. Agree or disagree? The English language could do with a spot of spring cleaning, where it may even benefit from doing away with certain phrases that have become so confusing and denuded with multiple meanings – as some words can no longer convey meaning coherently without confusing all of us.

 What you say to that? One more time please. Agree or not? What are we talking about exactly?

Well to be precise, its double speak, that pelt rack where words basically get stretch till they die only to be reincarnated into something that is closer to the living dead – George Orwell once wrote about it his narcomantic novel 1984, where along with apocalyptic warnings about pineapple eyed machines that are no larger than houseflies scurrying around spying on every word and deeds; he mentioned how if we continue to remain bovine about how words are used: eventually language will become so encrusted with hidden meanings their real meaning can only fritter away – or, worse, they get dragooned only to be “rehashed to make lies sound truthful to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”. He advised: “If one gets rid of these bad habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step towards rebirth.”

I’m talking about the general clichés that are bandied around with impunity that we may already be marinating in for so long that we may not even be conscious of this corrosive process of chelating, leaching or scouring – unless we really take the effort to say to ourselves, “Hey! What does this mean?” – I am talking about phrases that you and I come across on a daily basis – phrases posing as objective descriptions of events and how they may even have a hidden agenda that subconsciously shape the way we regularly make sense of our world.

An obvious example is the phrase “nation building” – sounds benign enough – after all who could possibly deny every nation needs to be shored up with the odd beam and pillar – only as far as euphemism go who would have ever imagined what it actually means is a card blanche to gut out real narratives for doggy bites for the sole purpose of keeping the status quo ante – where I suspect the operating logic takes it cue from bikini management 101; the vital parts have to be always covered up; as for the rest, its really what we all expect to see.

Another phrase is “strategic,” that’s basically the quintessential crowbar to circumvent any need for “accountability” and “transparency.” Like a magic incantation once something is stamped with the word, “strategic”; what invariably happens is it disappears into a black hole and we are all left making teeth sucking sounds wondering what’s going to happen next – usually nothing happens and we all pack our bags and go back home. To paraphrase: for “strategic” reasons we have every right to give you the mushroom treatment – keep you in the dark and feed you shit. You can’t complain, because its “strategic.” The classical circular argument.

Even the seemingly plain and straightforward isn’t spared from run around treatment – take the case of “equality?” What does it actually mean, well as I recently discovered, it belongs to the same league as unicorns, leprechauns and tooth fairies – and since mother nature remains supremely indifferent to the whole idea of equality, then it doesn’t really exist except perhaps when it comes to premature aging, hair loss and bad teeth. The long and short of it is there is no such thing as equality, don’t get worked up, take a stress pill it’s all in your mind; a figment of your imagination.

What about the much bandied around term “constructive engagement?” What does that really mean? Surely even that phrase hasn’t been given the spring cleaning treatment? Au Contraire, as we can see it can mean anything from condoning genocide to even naming Orchids after Burmese mass murderers and from what little I have been able to gather from the “new improved” P-65 blog (I much prefer those talking heads reminds me of my hunting trophies that hangs in my toilet), even such a benign phrase is capable of evoking sinister images – as what it really means is, if you cant accept what I have say, then you are either immature, unconstructive or some bent on a spot of mayhem. Prognosis: What I have to say is important; what you have to say counts for squat. You need to grow a brain. It’s not my fault if you can’t see my logic; you are the problem, not the solution. Do come back and try again.

My point this afternoon is to emphasize how real meaning can suddenly run away from a word or phrase and replaced by something completely different to reframe our cognitive blue print that we may not even be aware of it: my personal favorite is “life time employment.” Again it evokes that all familiar balm of cosy insiderism where we may perhaps conjure up chicken soup images of stress free senior citizens ambling along to turn the wheel of life in their golden years; only if you really want to catch the latest horror flick of glorious life of battery chicken starring Ah Kong and Ah Mah – do check it out in your nearest golden arches and just watch for yourself how demeaning “life time employment” can actually be when the elderly have to work in conditions designed by time and motion experts.

What about “streaming.” – sounds like some exotic urination technique to avoid prostate complications right – who really feels moved when they hear it? – No one but what we are in fact talking about is good olde fashion zoo keeping – where someone tags and proceeds to pigeon holes some poor sod and issues them a laminated card with the words, “from today onwards, this is your lot, don’t turn left or right, just keep to the road and try to make the best of it.” Never mind that they could be late bloomers like Albert Einstein; never mind that both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates suffered from averagely abysmal academic careers – I am sure all these are just minor kinks in the greater scheme of things – in short, it’s all grist to the mill.

The one phrase that riles me no end has to be “out of context.” This one really takes the cake as the five chili mother of nothingness. I swear, if I should hear it one more time, I will promptly puke up on my cat. Usually it’s framed along the lines of sobriety – “you have taken my words out of context.” I would allow this phrase the benefit of good light if only it wasn’t used and abused so often as some get-out-of-jail free card on the cheap for anybody who is caught back pedaling on what they once said, wrote or did. As we all witnessed recently in the curious case of Sadavisan when he was inexplicably seized by some morbid fear to grab for dear life in the name of “self preservation” and pull a write up from the theonlinecitizen.

Yes, I agree sometimes, a quote can be taken out of context, only my point is if you are to lay claim to such defense, the onus should be on you to furnish the original context and explain why the quote couldn’t possibly apply. Instead, what invariably happens is the default, where the person invoking “out of context” imputes that everyone accusing him for trying to pull off the caper of the century is a contender for the Nostradamus ESP of the year prize – to be perfectly honest with all of you; no phrase has ever harried me to the point of terminal dejection – I even once had a pretty girl in a short dainty skirt SMS me, “care to check out my box tonight? I’ve make it worth your while” Only to be told latter when I appeared in her flat with a bottle of buy one get one free wine that what she really meant was I should help her wire up her xbox – and when I accused her of misleading me, she said, “you took my words out of context” and that was the cue for her brothers with no necks to put my body “out of context” – after that I spent two weeks “out of context” from my self, as I lost all sensation of my lower jaw; as for that femme fatale she eventually became so “out of context” from my idea of what a level headed girl should be, I just ejected her  “out of context” from my mind and relegated her stripe of level headedness to a far more pragmatic purpose (that by the way is another grand nonsense of  a word – pragmatic –  that has lost all it’s meaning like reusable teabags)  good for putting tiger and peanuts on whenever I watched football on telly – out of context my foot lah! Go and die lah!

There you have it, the sum of all my trails and tribulations with words, vocabulary and phrases that get defaced just as a coin loses it’s engraving after it has been in circulation for too long – there are many more mouthfuls of diatribe I could offer along with battleships of stories of how they have been either erased and denuded of their true meaning; that do very little to further our understanding – the politics of envy – responsible blogging – constructive criticism – the list is endless, but really, its too depressing.

If only they can all learn to call a spade a spade – if only they can all say, we don’t want you to know because if you know how badly we all fucked up then we all look terribly silly – if only, they could just say what they really mean and be true to themselves and others; then perhaps we can begin to sit down, talk and find a country within a country by the name of common ground.

Darkness 2009 – The Brotherhood Press 2009

Kick back and relax. This is as smooth as amber on slope. The way I see it,  when the shit piles up real high, there is no better way to deal with than to sit it out somewhere down wind as it goes right by. No need to fight it – no need to even make things right – no need!

Just let nature run it’s course. Everything is cool – somethings in life, you make it happen – somethings, you just have to allow it to happen – I reckon when it comes to this sort of stuff, it has to be the latter.

I never ever sweat the small stuff!


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