In his Superior Person’s Book of Words and its two sequels, the incorrigible Peter Bowler did his best to spread confusion throughout the English-speaking world by encouraging his trusting readers to use obscure, sometimes preposterous words for no other purpose than to impress (or conveniently befuddle) their peers. But he recently experienced a “Road to Damascus” conversion. Confronted by the damage being inflicted on his beloved Mother Tongue by the pretentious, euphemistic, obfuscatory, and self-aggrandizing cant now running amok in our military, corporate, and academic arenas, he is mounting a one-man campaign to return us to sanity.
The Superior Person’s Field Guide is a call for the return to simple, straightforward words that say what they mean and mean what they say. Most of us know that “downsizing” means that you’re about to be fired, but have you ever heard its business-speak cousins “offshoreable” or “cash-flow episode”?
With his customary wit and clear-sightedness, Bowler cuts a swath through the thickets of popular jargon, casting daylight on such linguistic deformities as “interrogate with prejudice” (that is, torture) and “unforeseen geological event” (a mining disaster). Impatient with euphemism, he examines ugly specimens forced into bloom in the interests of political correctness – “waitperson,” “developmentally challenged” – designed to help the squeamish avoid direct confrontation with the simple facts of sex and disability. Here are circumlocutions that make the disagreeable seem agreeable, the unacceptable acceptable, and here is Peter Bowler, as always, trying to set the record, and the English language, straight.
A lexicon devoid of practical value but replete with entertaining possibilities…Not for the faint of wit.
GOLDEN HANDSHAKE n. Those of us outside the senior echelons of the corporate world can be forgiven if we see entry to those echelons as comparable to entry to Aladdin’s cave, since there are so many different “golden” payments you may receive, over and above what you get for doing the job. You may be given a “golden greeting” to persuade you to join a firm, a “golden handshake” to persuade you to leave it, “golden handcuffs” to induce you to remain in it, a “golden parachute” to soften your fall from an executive height, or even a “golden retriever” to get you to rejoin a firm that you have left. If you were an officer in the British army and surplus to requirements you may have been given a “golden bowler” (i.e., bowler hat) to help you on your way.