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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

3.59  ·  Rating Details  ·  285 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
A brilliant and scathing polemic about the sorry state of the English Language and what we can—and must—do about it.

When was the last time you heard a politician use words that rang with truth and meaning? Do your eyes glaze over when you read a letter from your bank or insurance company addressing you as a valued customer? Does your mind shut down when your employer sta

Hardcover, 208 pages
Published May 5th 2005 by Gotham (first published 2003)
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(showing 1-30 of 611)
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This was given to me because I love words. I’ve been immersed in so much bureaucratese over the last 20 years that I felt as if this was directed personally at me. Not for perpetrating the assault on good language myself but maybe for perpetuating it. I’ve contributed to enough policies and procedures to choke a horse. There ya go—two examples, one of corporate speak (P&P) and a cliché. Easy, isn’t it?

This was written during the end of John Howard’s prime ministership, and there are many r
Jul 27, 2007 Trevor rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language, reference
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
Jun 19, 2012 Scott rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 21, 2009 Chris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 17, 2014 Jim rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 24, 2008 Susan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Oct 17, 2015 Shane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The message of Don Watson’s Death Sentence: the Decay of Public Language (2003) is no less relevant now than when it was first published. In fact, twelve years on, it’s more needed (if less likely to be heeded?) than ever. So I was surprised to find a dumped copy amongst a slew of trashy novels. Why would someone ditch Watson’s satiric, superbly articulate text?

Amply studded with dire examples of corporate speak and inspiring quotes, his argument gets off to a cliché-free flying start. And he of
Gary Geiger
Jul 06, 2015 Gary Geiger rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language
2 1/2 stars, really. Death Sentences had its ups and downs. It was mainly complaints about Newspeak but attempted to offer better alternatives in English writing and speaking. And even though it was written only 12 years ago, it seems dated because its complaints were often a product of that time. There were a lot of complaints about how the Bush Administration used language. But he wasn't too happy with language used by corporations, universities, and other non=governmental institutions either. ...more
Feb 17, 2016 Henry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book "does what is says on the tin".

Death Sentence oscillates between a lament for the declension of the English language, and a rallying call to arrest, even reverse, its decay. Watson's concerns are deeper than the pure love of language. He asserts that language forms the basis of thought, polity, power, and the human experience - and when language suffers, so too do these things.

It is a kind of Southern Hemisphere spiritual descendent of Orwell's "Politics and the English Language", and i
Nov 22, 2010 Josh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 04, 2008 Mike rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 17, 2009 Matthew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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!
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
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
Debra Komar
A fantastic idea and an important subject that unfortunately falls prey to the very scourge it is fighting. The writing here is ponderous and plodding. He clearly has a "thing" against certain words - for heaven's sake, don't ever use the word "enhanced" around him - and he is on a mission to destroy corporate speak. A very noble goal, but he beats the horse long past death. The book is one note (albeit an important one) but he plays it till it grinds.
Chas Bayfield
Feb 25, 2012 Chas Bayfield rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Phill Parker
Jan 25, 2015 Phill Parker rated it really liked it
"In terms of moving forward, commitment is key." I feel dirty just for parroting that dreck. Every time someone describes something as "key", we should be allowed to blow their head off with a double-barrel, sawed-off shotgun... then shit down their neck. Wait, did I say that out loud? Note to self: Use inside voice.
Mar 25, 2011 Awinegarner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 06, 2008 Erica rated it liked it
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
John Jones
Dec 22, 2014 John Jones rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent read - should be compulsory reading for all my colleagues in IT!
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.
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.
Jun 09, 2008 Tammy rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Apr 13, 2011 David rated it really liked it
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.
* "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
Apr 04, 2012 Ronan Mcdonnell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 (Ventureadlaxre)
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
Jun 06, 2013 Melissa Bowtell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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Madison Mega-Mara...: #33: Death Sentences by Don Watson 1 2 Mar 17, 2014 04:37PM  
  • By Hook Or By Crook: A Journey In Search Of English
  • I Never Knew There Was a Word For It
  • A Dictionary of Modern English Usage
  • The Language Wars: A History of Proper English
  • Expletive Deleted: A Good Look at Bad Language
  • The First Stone: Some Questions of Sex and Power
  • The King's English
  • Distant Voices
  • Globish: How the English Language Became the World's Language
  • Usage and Abusage: A Guide to Good English
  • Hunwick's Egg
  • Dancing with Strangers: Europeans and Australians at First Contact
  • Word Nerd: More Than 17,000 Fascinating Facts about Words
  • The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia
  • The Story of English: How the English Language Conquered the World
  • The Little Red Writing Book
  • In Tasmania: Adventures at the End of the World
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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
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“Consciously or not, the Senator (or his staffer) was only attempting to speak the language of the locals. He was value-adding (or adding alpha as very refined managers say). Value-adding is a mantra of modern economics: it describes the increase in value that a particular manufacturing process, or design or labelling or some other enhancement brings to a product before its sale. Those who talk a lot about value-adding often sound as if they are trying to achieve the same effect with the language: they force it into a new mould, streamline it, give it cachet. They make it into a machine with a minimum of moving parts, but with constant upgrades and (naturally) enhancements. And if you want to get reconciliation taken seriously, you had better put your case in these terms. The Senator’s imitation of the style is a remote sign of the gathering belief that the whole world – or such parts of it that function properly – can be understood either as a metaphor for free market economics and the management philosophies it has spawned, or as an actual consequence of them. That is to say, as an outcome or an event.” 0 likes
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