Volume 94, Issue 78
Friday, February 9, 2001
Financialese not making language richer
What passes for common sense is sometimes nothing more than remarkable stupidity.
A good example of this phenonemon is the increasing acceptance of cutthroat capitalist dictums and contemptible consumerist imperatives as rules to live by.
Don't believe me? Then take a critical look at the bizarre prevalence of financially-charged language in media reports and everyday speech, even when the subject of discussion has nothing to do with business or economics.
What you may find, for starters, is that no one can talk about an important conclusion without referring to it as "the bottom line." The leader of the party about to step down? The bottom line is that the party will be in disarray for a while. Big scientific discovery made? The bottom line is that it may teach us more about DNA.
But then, that business-speak cliché has been in circulation for a long time. What about newer examples of financial and economic buzzwords? Well, how about the way in which members of student groups or citizens of a country are now glibly referred to as "stakeholders." The idea behind this language shift seems to be that people are no longer welcomed members of inclusive communities but, rather, "members of the board," included strictly because they've paid the necessary fees or taxes.
And remember that gregarious activity once known as making friends? Well, it's still around, but now goes under the name "networking." Apparently, the assumption underlying this one is that talking to people isn't so much an act of sociability as it is a career move.
What about "value"? Every good little consumer in the land seems to have examined the question of what "value" is with the inquisitive fervour of Plato contemplating beauty or truth. Beauty and truth may not bear too much looking into today, but everyone seems to have an extensively elaborate conception of what one deserves for one's money.
Take movies and think of how often you've heard this exchange: "Hey man, how was Dude, Where's My Brain? Uh, all right I guess, but I don't think it was worth $10. Maybe if you went on cheap night." Even when it comes to an aesthetic experience like watching a movie, we're much more comfortable assigning a dollar value than talking about artistic merit.
There's no denying that business jargon has always found its way into everyday speech. However, public discourse today is getting absolutely infested with financialese. In itself, that's nothing to fret over, but we should be fretting at the possibility that we can't seem to think about anything anymore without resorting to cold, corporate logic. Not government, not education, not even art.
The bottom line is that, as individuals and communities, we are all ironically poorer for it.
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