Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I Have Told You A Thousand Times Not to Exaggerate!

On the budget airline which Janice and I recently used, it was apparent that management was trying to retrieve as much cash as possible from “cheapo” flyers like us. We could have paid extra to check our bags, to board first and to enjoy an in-flight snack.

In addition to the attempt to swell alternate income streams, “product placement” was also evident. As I settled into my tight-quarters seat and tried to ignore the larger-than-average, sweaty guy seated next to me, while simultaneously attending to the overhead announcement encouraging me to fasten my seat belt and locate the emergency escape exits, my travel-weary eyes met the advertisement that had been affixed to the back of the seat in front on me. With recognizable food label logos promoting the presence of several brands which could be purchased mid-flight, the velcro-attached sign said, with a flourish: “Now Available on Board!”(In the small print which followed, the sign then said: “Subject to availability!”

Methinks that this is more than mere marketing. In this age in which language in general and public rhetoric in particular seem to have been severely devalued and their credibility stretched beyond recognition, we have grown to accept such obvious linguistic inconsistencies as the message in front of my seat. Many people trying to communicate a message these days seem to have learned too well the old argumentation device which I was taught years ago in my varsity debate days in college; subliminally, you can get your message across by exaggeration, hyperbole or outright stretching of the truth; just be prepared immediately to take it back. Like an attorney getting his point in the ears of the jury before the opposing lawyer appeals to the judge, many today are willing to say “too much,” followed by a quick retraction.

Almost routinely these days, politicians say outrageous things about their opponents or those in another party and, as soon as public outcry demands, simply take back the statement by saying that they “mis-spoke,” that they were “confused” or that their remarks may have been “taken out of context.” Even religious leaders now seem willing to say horrible things about those with whom they differ, especially those from another religion; only later, with mock sincerity, they issue statements like “I am so sorry if the things that I might have said may have caused others harm” or “I regret that some have seen malice in my innocent remarks” or “It is unfortunate that some have mis-construed my statement.”

Marketeers, politicians, religious leaders and anyone utilizing words to express a grasp of truth must make much better use of language than this. How long will we allow persons, prejudices and platforms to be advanced by the use of this cheap, shoddy perversion of the spoken or written word, at the expense of both truth and clarity? When will the general public reach the maturity to acknowledge such devices for exactly what they are?

Wish I knew!