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A Man of Few Words - by Swan Morrison


Dear Employee,

As Chief Executive, I am writing to all of you who work for our organisation to clarify some misunderstandings that may have taken place due to language differences between management and staff.

Many of you will know of the historic voyage the Beagle which took Charles Darwin to the Galapagos Islands. There he discovered that species separated from their ancestors could evolve into totally new forms. A similar phenomenon has occurred in respect of use of English by your managers which, isolated from the discourse of the everyday world, has transformed the meanings of many words beyond that which can be inferred by metaphor.

In earlier times it was possible for the more literate among you to deduce that terms such as ‘downsizing’ meant ‘job losses’ and ‘rationalisation’ meant ‘closing whole offices’. Even the least able understood that ‘restructuring’ meant ‘poorly thought-through chaos’ and that ‘full staff consultation’ was the lecture which took place after ‘restructuring’. Now, however, our managers’ vocabularies have diverged from common usage in such a relatively short period, and to such an extent, that it has become apparent their utterances may convey virtually no meaning at all.

The seriousness of this became very apparent earlier this year when many of you were told that you would have huge pay rises, work less hours, have longer holidays and a job for life. To those few of us who are bilingual in Standard English and Management Speak this would have alerted us to the dire condition of the company and the need to become conversant with the state welfare benefits system. Indeed many managers were perplexed at the joy with which their doom-laden message was received. At least, however, most of you believed you had understood the message, albeit incorrectly.

The subsequent even more rapid evolution of managerial language, however, has led to a widening gulf between management and employee comprehension which has staggered even those of us in the boardroom.

It is now clear that last week’s urgent announcement that qwetys hywtrgs f hjdho juy kwhhlkk juegtgsk o kl poysfkal hartstldoyrethsnj losistyhjd ll ja, was incomprehensible to anyone below senior management level, and consequently junior staff made no attempt to evacuate the building until they actually saw the smoke and flames and heard the sirens of the fire engines.

As I mentioned above, I am one of the few people who can communicate in both Standard English and Management Speak and am, sadly, the only one with such skills in this company. In addition, I have to announce that I will be retiring in the very near future. This will leave the organisation in a situation where management and staff will have no common basis on which to exchange information beyond rudimentary sign-language or drawing simple images on paper. I regret therefore that I have informed management that tyuj mys gahajajk gstheyoau gshy jjuy and I must also inform you all, with regret, that this business will be closing.

Yours sincerely,

T Babel.

Chief Executive.