Death Sentence by Don Watson

Don Watson’s Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language is vital reading for anyone who speaks and/or writes in the english language.

It espouses the importance of originality, clarity, brevity and honesty – the cover picture of a parrot is fitting.

“To write clearly is not to think shallowly,” its Australian author and public speaker Don Watson reminds us, lamenting that corporatespeak – disconcertingly akin to Orwellian doublespeak and Newspeak – has even found its way into sports commentary (“There has been a lack in terms of numbers of free kicks”) and weather reports.

The book is littered with painfully dull examples of ‘the decay of public language’ – of which John Howard (former Australian Prime Minister) and George Bush (no introduction required) provide ample material, contrasted to great effect with literary gems from the likes of J.M Keynes (“Words ought to be a little wild for they are an assault of thoughts on the unthinking”), Vladimir Nabokov (you know the one: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. …”) and Winston Churchill (“We shall fight on the beaches…”).

Watson’s own national anthem, ‘Advance Australia Fair’ doesn’t (and quite rightly) fair very well in his assessment, described as “thick”. (The line “So long as we’re required to sing ‘our home is girt by sea’ we are not likely to start putting our hands over our hearts” had me laughing out loud – literally, that is, not in acronym form).

So, next time you hear the words “moving forward” (here’s looking at you Julia Gillard), “in terms of” or [insert anything here]-“wise” making their way into your vocabulary (and that includes pointless and trite euphemisms that only muddy your message) consider tracking down a copy of this book, which even closes with a series of handy exercises for the reforming corporatespeaker.

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


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