16 June 2014

A descent into drivel as a sign

On 15 June FT columnist Lucy Kellaway published yet another piece on poor corporate language. This article is, however, different in two ways. First, it attacks -- and how -- a company (Apple) that Lucy had previously held up "as a lone example of a big company that uses words beautifully"

But Descent into drivel is a sign of Apple’s fall goes on to a deeper level of analysis (my bold):
Everyone knows that job ads are an area that attracts the worst sort of grandiose language, especially when they have been put through a headhunter’s mangle that makes every employer “world-class”. But when the company itself can’t describe what its own people do, and can’t say anything clearly about who it wants to fill them, I fear trouble.
Apple’s hitherto nice way with words was almost certainly a part of its success. Perhaps the language helped cause the success, or perhaps the success caused the language. The company’s new, ugly words suggest it has got too big and too corporate to hang on to the things that once made it different. Apple seems to have become at least as Kafkaesque as everywhere else.
Only time will tell if Lucy is on the right, which is to say if it is indeed possible to get an insight into strategic wavering and possible loss of direction from the close analysis of corporate communications.This thought often crosses the attentive translator's mind. While many, indeed far too many, see 'business speak', 'corporate guff' and the like as one of the easier categories of translation, a quick glance at the examples quoted by Lucy reveals just how turgid this type of document can be.

Some lateral thinking also suggests that one of the simplest and cheapest solutions is to have key corporate statements, advertisements, etc. translated by an acknowledged expert with the dual purposes of (a) using the translation(s) to increase the company's reach, and (b) having the company's top in-house writers work hand in hand with the translator(s) to ensure that all versions are crisp, clear and free of the sort of drivel that may later prove so embarrassing, not to mention expensive to fix.

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After completing a BSc in physics and maths in Australia and extended travels in Africa I found a job in Paris that left me with considerab...