Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Incidental musing

So I do think that communication is a process of negotiating meaning, but that doesn't mean that I believe that meaning necessarily changes from communicative act to communicative act.


Well, my boss is one of those annoying people who change their views on things depending who they last spoke to.

She writes something about accidents and incidents in OHS, and I say, well an accident is an incident. And she goes, no, in OHS an incident is a near miss. She often does this: claiming that language is specialised in an area of government or a speciality. I say, no, a near miss is an incident, but so is an accident. It's what incident means. (And I check it out, of course, just in case OHS people are particularly retarded, but it turns out that although some of them are stupid enough to think that incidents are accidents in which no one gets hurt, but mostly not.)

So she says, yeah, but X in the Department of Y told me that they use it like this.

And I'm thinking, what the fuck, X is now the arbiter of how the word "incident" is used? And if B in the Department of C was to say next week that they use an "Incident Form" to record all their accidents and near misses, guess what? "Incidents" would now include accidents.

I have a pretty strict approach to jargon when I'm editing. I don't allow specialised uses of English unless there is a real purpose to it. So I don't care that "everyone in finance uses 'enhance' to mean 'increase'". Everyone in finance is practically illiterate and I'm hired to fix that. And just because everyone else is an idiot doesn't mean you have to be. I don't allow people to use "leverage" to mean "use" because that's not what "leverage" means, and it doesn't start meaning it just because people in the business literature use it that way. It's not a specialised term. It doesn't mean anything more than "use" in the contexts where it can be replaced by "use".

Indeed, here's a rule of thumb for you (and I know that I occasionally get hits from people who are looking for usage tips on leverage, and I'm not shy of giving out usage tips): if you are wanting to use "leverage" as a verb, don't. Use "use", "build", "connect", whichever fits (if none of those fits, email me the sentence in question and I will supply you with a verb that does fit). Restrict "leverage" to use as a noun meaning either the action of a lever, power that you have over someone or something (generally understood as power you apply indirectly, such as by threat or implication, or that you have by dint of your status or assets, creating the implication of possible application of power) or the use of debt to increase investment capacity, particularly for speculation. You could, if you absolutely insisted, use it as a verb in the third sense, saying things like "the company leveraged itself heavily so that it could buy its rival" but you'd be better off writing that the company "took on a lot of debt" unless you absolutely mean that it took on a lot of debt compared with its assets.

But don't tell me that "leverage" means "use" because you saw it used that way in a book you read last week. I don't care. I know that people misuse words. I can make a living because they do. And I know that lots of the other people who make a living doing what I do suck at it.


At 8:33 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...my boss is one of those annoying people who change their views on things depending who they last spoke to."If she is that malleable, perhaps you could arrange always to be the last person she spoke to.

Admittedly "always" is probably impractical, and "often" might see you puking quite a lot, but you get the idea, right?

At 7:09 am, Blogger Grapes 2.0 said...

Welcome back, cunty. This is why we don't hold it against you that you changed your mind.

Code-word: cunate


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