Saturday, February 5, 2011

Reaching Out or Group Think?

Dorothy L. Sayers mused that the trivialization of language and the stripping of meaning from language was a component of the regression of society. One of her examples was advertising; if she could only see Madison Avenue now what would she say?

If you are involved in the business world you no doubt have been exposed to the terms, “reach out” and “reaching out”. People don’t telephone people anymore, they “reach out” to them. I get emails telling me that such-and-such a firm has a new regional manager and that he or she will be “reaching out” to me. I received a telephone call from a national company executive concerning a problem I was having with his local representative; no fewer than 5 times in our brief conversation did he use the terms “reach out” and “reaching out”. It was all I could do to contain the impulse to ask him, “Do you mean that you’re going to have Mr. Smith call me?”

What is it with otherwise seemingly intelligent people? How did “reaching out” infect the entire corporate world so quickly? Where was the Center for Disease Control? I want to start asking, “What do you mean? Why are you using these words? Who taught you to speak that way?”

Does “reaching out” to someone place the one reaching out on a more elevated relational platform? Does it mean that the one reaching out is on the inside and that others are on the outside? What is this new way of speaking?

Cattle? Sheep? It’s scary. Language doesn’t mean much anymore, with advertising copy and spin doctors and sanitized language that not only ensures no one is offended, but also ensures that nothing means anything anymore. Do me a favor, if you want to send me an email please do so, if you want to telephone me please go ahead, if your communication preference is smoke signals I’ll try to understand them; but please, please, I beg you – don’t reach out to me.