Each December, Plain English Foundation in Australia names its Worst Words of the Year. Last week the Foundation releases its 2019 list, highlighting the worst examples of spin doctoring, corporate doublespeak, non-apologies, Frankenwords and buzzwords.
Plain English Foundation has voted freedom gas as the worst word or phrase of 2019.
The term comes from the United States Department of Energy, which rebranded natural gas as “freedom gas” and boasted about bringing molecules of US freedom to the world.
“When a simple product like natural gas starts being named through partisan politics, we are entering dangerous terrain,” said the Foundation’s Executive Director, Dr Neil James. “Why can’t natural gas just remain natural gas?”
Each year, Plain English Foundation gathers dozens of examples of the worst words to highlight the importance of clear and ethical public language.
In Australia, Victoria Police made the list after it tried to play down the apparent punching of a protester. It described this as a palm strike that is a “commonly applied clearance move in dynamic public order scenarios.” Further north, the engineer for Sydney’s sinking Mascot Towers reported the apartment was simply moving in a downward motion.
“These are classic examples of spin that downplay a far less pleasant reality,” Dr James said.
Insurer NIB also tried to deflect some poor publicity by explaining its illegal rejection of health insurance claims was simply not aligned to the legislative requirements. And Ford Europe rounded out the corporate doublespeak by labelling job cuts as voluntary employee separations.
The Jeffrey Epstein case generated several candidates for the 2019 list. Media outlets used euphemisms such as non-consensual sex (rape) and underage woman (girl) to soften a much darker situation. And Prince Andrew took out the year’s non-apology by describing his ill-advised association with Epstein as too honourable.
“These words seem safe and innocuous,” Dr James said. “But they also serve to sanitise offences, shield the offenders and excuse those who ought to be held to account.”
The Foundation also found rich fodder in the buzzwords category. Tourism Australia’s new slogan hinged on the Frankenword philausophy, while Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced his marriage break-up as a long period of loving exploration. Elsewhere, retailers were seeking frictionless customer experiences and cleanfluencers promoted tidiness.
Heading back overseas, the mixed metaphor of the year went to New Jersey’s Governor for drawing a line in the sand and putting Band-Aids on our fiscal house.
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