English section: Gobbledegook & Officialese

Home/English History, English Language, Humour, Philosophy, Today/English section: Gobbledegook & Officialese

English section: Gobbledegook & Officialese

An onomatopoeic word is one that derives its meaning from the sound it makes. The accepted dictionary word ‘gobbledegook’ decidedly comes from the sound made by most poultry animals in the farmyard, especially turkeys. The term evokes unintelligible language, gibberish and nonsense, intentional or unintentional. The former is common in the speech of the under-educated, and in semi-educated writing. The latter is particularly to be found in the works of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. Lear used it supremely well in his ‘limericks’ such as this one:

‘There was an old lady of Chertsey,

Who made a remarkable curtsey;

She twirled round and round,

Till she sank underground,

Which distressed the people of Chertsey’.

Since education at school and university level in Great Britain ceased to be entrusted to persons who spoke ordinary English or ‘received pronunciation’, and since the BBC opted for regional or foreign dialects in its announcers, normal speech between the British has been reduced to a series of sounds, as in a farmyard, with glottal stops as a special favour. It is now impossible to understand what the average British person, should he or she be under fifty, is trying to communicate. The corruption of a once-fine spoken language began in the Sixties, developed in the Seventies, was made obligatory in the Eighties, and was finely polished in the Nineties. If a child is expensively educated at a private school, he or she will quickly lose any semblance of received pronunciation they might have had the good fortune to acquire, at the moment of leaving school. Should they attend a university, they will be lectured in gobbledegook by wingless turkeys steeped in Marxist lore – but incapable of forming a sentence in standard English.

Gobbledegook is and should be derided, especially when it is prevalent in the kind of language used invariably by lawyers, civil servants, bureaucrats, art and music critics and all purveyors of officialese. This is a term coined by Ernest Gowers in his Plain Words published in 1948. It denotes the circumlocutory language used, intentionally or unintentionally by officials when they are allowed free-use of paper and a means of writing on it. Officialese is pompous, abstract, obstructionist, euphemistic, irritatingly polysyllabic and periphrastic. It is fashionable with sociologists and educationists, de rigeur with lawyers, bureaucrats and business people and goes rather like this:-

‘With reference to the aforementioned, we are in receipt of your esteemed order of the 17th inst. and beg to inform you that the article in question has been discontinued for reasons which cannot be disclosed. We shall cause you to be informed if any such articles are to be made available or can be found in alternative sources’.

A typical Whitehall bureaucrat might render the following, especially if he were in a particularly obfuscating mood:-

‘The efflorescence of a host of specialists in business and industry and the ever widening inroad that Her Majesty’s Government is forging into our business lives are carcinogens of effective communication; for the jargon of, on the one hand, cyberneticians, computer programmers, systems analysts and psychologists and, on the other hand, the complex prose of the urban district council constitute an invidious, not to say divisive growth which is in the process of challenging our ability to express ourselves in clear simple terms . . .’

     There is no hope: a woman at the next table in a restaurant I used to use burped this message to her ‘partner’ in between shoving portions of pasta into the organ usually used for speaking: “Wochermeanordrinbeerwivyermeal? Oitelledyerwunfarsantoimestertaikwoinwivyerfood, dinnai?”

By | 2013-04-08T16:39:31+00:00 April 8th, 2013|English History, English Language, Humour, Philosophy, Today|0 Comments

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

Leave A Comment