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Death Sentences: How Cliches, Weasel Words and Management-Speak Are Strangling Public Language
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Death Sentences: How Cliches, Weasel Words and Management-Speak Are Strangling Public Language

3.56 of 5 stars 3.56  ·  rating details  ·  233 ratings  ·  33 reviews
A brilliant and scathing polemic about the sorry state of the English language and what we can--and must--do about it.

Do you ever leave work wondering whether all of the words exchanged between you and your colleagues in emails and meetings actually had any meaning? You spend the day touching base and networking, workshopping and impacting, strategizing and implementing...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published May 4th 2006 by Gotham (first published 2003)
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Trevor
I really wanted this book to be good. It is on a topic that is essential, it is written by the speech writer for Paul Keating (an ex-Australian Prime Minister) - it simply sounded like it had everything going for it.

Like anyone interested in language I hate the corporatisation of English that has been going on for well over a century now. I work in an industry where people actually say they seek 'closure' without a hint of embarrassment - and I've learnt that one can only feel sorry for them fo...more
Scott
I get it. The guy can write a good, clean sentence. One dip in the pool of his prose will carry your eye across several pages to the Ocean of English Ecstasy. You might even say he's fun to read.

For a while.

The problem is this: every page in the book says about the same thing as every other. There's no structure, no organization. Just a steady stream of lambasting the mundane babble of corporations, governments, schools, news, nonprofits. And while he does a damn good job of that, he also needs...more
Chris
I recently re-read this. I remembered not liking it very much for some inspecific reason but, nevertheless, picked it up as I was running for the train certain that it would enrich my knowledge of the English language and spark some thought in my almost dead brain. Unfortunately, by the half-way point the reason for my vague recollections of dislike came flooding back to me in a tsunami of regret (how's that for a mixed metaphor Don?!). Although Don makes marvellous points with wonderful languag...more
Jim
Don Watson has delivered to us a much needed text to redirect our path forward in enhancement of communication.

Just kidding.

But I did discover that I really need to clean up my language. I've fallen prey to exactly what this book is about.

Mainly, that in our world, it seems like it's:

"...better to speak in buzzwords and cliches because there can be no argument with words that have no meaning at their core."


I really enjoyed this book - Watson has a great writing style, and I found it pretty f...more
Susan
I was extremely disappointed in this book. His point--that vague, wordy, and meaningless corporate speech has become the new standard for all speech--is valid. Unfortunately, that point was made in the first few pages, and the rest of the book is spent remaking the point. Rather than offering solutions for what one should do when such speech is expected (resumes, for example), he labors the point with too many examples, most of which are drawn from American politics and business.
Josh
Though the author beats the subject to death (and then some), his points are very valid and ever-increasing. Too much of public and corporate language is about using cliches and business-speak. I keep this book as a recommendation for friends who are trying to avoid "changing new paradigms" and "circling back on our key initiatives." The more we all use real words, the better we'll all be at talking to each other.
Mike
Should be required reading for all modern writers. Do not read this however if you are already entrenched in the corporate world, it will shake your foundation too violently.
Matthew
Like porn for pedants, but something of a pandora's box: once you've read this you'll be looking for shocking examples of 'officialese' everywhere!
Jamie Strachan
I made it through two thirds of the book before I had to give up. While the premise is interesting and there is clear evidence that the author is deft with words, the book as a whole is unclear and meandering. It's as though the author was so intent on crafting sentences that the paragraphs, sections, and chapters got ignored.

I enjoyed the few examples where specific sentences were reworked and there were valid points made the dangers of management-speak and its creep toward ubiquity but the lac...more
Robert Beveridge
Don Watson, Death Sentences: How Clichés, Weasel Words, and Management-speak Are Strangling Public Language (Gotham, 2005)

Are you sick of the idiocy that seems to be inherent in mission statements? Have you ever attempted to read a book of laws—the rules by which we are all supposed to live in this country—and given up in utter frustration at your inability to understand any word other than “the”? Do you wonder why no one's said anything original in a TV commercial in decades (assuming you don't...more
Jessica Tekin
This book is about the death and decay of the English language delivers some hard blows of truth. While its strength lies in the brutal honesty and clear passion of Watson, there is no full exploration and breakdown as to how this decay can be reversed on a citizen level. As such, without any explanation as to how to change an institution based on constant word deconstruction and evolution, it nearly becomes satirical by the end of the first few chapters. It analyses the problems with English, d...more
Chris Lynch
"This requires a commitment to the provision of adequate data so that informed evaluation can occur. There must be a commitment to the provision of statistical information that will facilitate effective monitoring and evaluation strategies and a commitment to the implementation of changes that are identified as necessary following evaluation." -- Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission speech

"I went into a mode of self-preservation." -- Footballer, Fox Footy Channel

A quick, easy read, "Dea...more
Chas Bayfield
This is the best book I've read for ages. I love it and I want to give Don Watson a hug. I work for an ad agency and I gave it to the copywriter who sits opposite me and now he too wants to hug Watson. In my dream parallel universe, I'll wake up to find Watson is doing a lecture tour of the UK and that I have tickets, and that afterwards I will get to meet him, shake his hand and hug him. Language is getting poisoned, suffocated and strangled by people who cut and paste cliches and expect others...more
Awinegarner
this book was good i am done with it but it was a good book for me to read because it had puzzle problems that neede to be solved.i wish there was another chapter book after it or another set of tories like this because it was interesting to me. there was a part in the book were the husband found the ring of the dude who he killed that killed his little sister in his house , and so he asked his wife was she doing anything with some guy and were did she get the ring from. she said she dont know w...more
Erica
Issue: That (anything) which you or your company has with another individual or company. The important matter or question to be resolved. Where the weight is. Also any problem, argument, complaint, difficulty, wound, sore spot, bone of contention, bone to pick, difference of opinion or belief, etc (as in "I don't have an issue with you or Golden Crumpets, Ltd.,Jeremy, but I think you might have an issue with me"). Whatever is going on between people, including rivalry, envy, lust, non payment of...more
Cass
About half-way through I put this back in the bag to return to the library... I wasn't getting in to it. However I have noticed how many times I have thought about it or referred to it in the last two weeks... so I am going to pull it out and finished...

It is funny how some books are like that.
Dee-Ann
I enjoyed this book, but was teetering between 3 stars and 4 stars, and felt generous. He wrote realy well on what the problem was, but offfered no solution, except to think how we might write better ... I needed a few examples. However, as mentioned I enjoyed this essay (as he referred to it himself) especially those rare moments where he let us know of his thoughts, eg his thoughts on Russell Crowe and his occasional expletive.
Tammy
How not only politically correct language, but also flowery speech is changing the English language. A person can write 200 words and not say a thing or ever take a stand for anything. This isn't just in politics, the media and big business; but also in every day use in recommended phrases for job resumes and inter-office communication.
David
For the linguist or communication professional, this is an excellent reading on how the language of business has infiltrated the personal and political lexicons. The understanding of weasel words (those to make a bad thing sound much better than it really is) and acronyms is not as important as the phycology behind the language.
Lsmith
Nov 06, 2010 Lsmith added it
* "Zen, Scientology, Dianietics, Maslow, gestalt, Napoleon Hill, an Dale Carnegie had a significant influence on the strand of management that murders language effiecently than any other, Human Resources (HR)."
* "...consultants, many of them downsized from useful vocations, are the plague of rates of the language virus." p. xxiii
Ronan Mcdonnell
A wonderful, exciting and funny look at what Watson calls “public language” - the meandering mindless speech of managers, marketers, politicians and automatons. Watson lampoons the zeitgeist nonsense phrases that get us to maximise our facilitation skillsets or reduce our networking deficits etc.
Katharine
A good quick read that started out as being fairly interesting, but soon turned into an unstructured rant that retold his point for the next 150 pages. Bit of a shame.

Well written though.
Melissa Bowtell
A witty and humourous rant by a jaded erudite logophile. Most enjoyable although somewhat elitist and placing significant emphasis on the power of words without examination of the power of actions.
Miriam Reger
A must-read.
Wittily put, with many accessible examples and kindles keen interest in the progression of a strangling public language.
Yvette
Apr 12, 2009 Yvette added it
Death Sentences : How Cliches, Weasel Words and Management-Speak Are Strangling Public Language by Don Watson (2007)
Jared
If you think political correctness and political bull@@@@ is destroying our language read this book.
Donna
Says much that needs to be said about the dumb-founding effect of corporate-speak.
Crankorrrrrrrrr
Don don he's my man
if he can't write it
Kevin Rudd... won't
Oren
Mar 21, 2007 Oren is currently reading it
a well articulated explanation of why people are getting dumber.
James
Everyone who cares about language should read this.
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Watson grew up on a farm in Gippsland, took his undergraduate degree at La Trobe University and a Ph.D at Monash University and was for ten years an academic historian. He wrote three books on Australian history before turning his hand to TV and the stage. For several years he combined writing political satire for the actor Max Gillies with political speeches for the former Premier of Victoria, Jo...more
More about Don Watson...
Recollections Of A Bleeding Heart. A Portrait Of Paul Keating PM American Journeys Watson's Dictionary of Weasel Words, Contemporary Cliches, Cant & Manage Bendable Learnings: The Wisdom of Modern Management Caledonia Australis: Scottish Highlanders On The Frontier Of Australia

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