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Author Topic: The great gobbledygook-generating machine  (Read 129 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: October 02, 2017, 12:46:44 AM »

Sometime ago, I found on the Internet a devilishly delightful way of coming up with far out ideas. It was a little electronic machine called the gobbledygook generator. Its makers said it was capable of producing around 40,000 elegant and grammar-perfect insights in English on how to run companies and organizations. Wonderful, I told myself! That should make every expensive academic genius or management guru think twice about his fancy pricing. There was just one hitch about the machine’s astounding productivity, though. Every bit of the wisdom it would spew out was utter nonsense.


When the machine’s tiny window came online I excitedly tapped the keyboard. True enough, the window started churning out onscreen one choice specimen of gobbledygook after another. Among them were:

“Forward-looking companies invest in remote administrative time-phases.”
“Our exploratory research points to regenerated strategic capability.”
“Our upgraded model now offers integrated strategic innovation.”
“At base level, this just comes down to facilitating monitored capability.”
“My organization believes in synchronized transitional concepts.”
“You really can’t fail with balanced third-generation capability.”
“The consultants recommend total transitional contingencies.”
   
I have always prided myself in having the knack for making sense out of chaos. After all, I am adequately literate in English and it just so happens that I had a long time ago taken a top-of-the-line management development course. But for the life of me, I was stumped by all these gobbledygook. I tried to figure them out for hours but to no avail. They haunted me for days. At night, in my dreams, I would suddenly come up with what seemed to be neat, plausible interpretations and start congratulating myself for my success. But they would turn out to be false in a millisecond or two, and I would wake up in cold sweat and find it terribly hard to go back to sleep.

What is it about people that makes them capable, like the gobbledygook machine, of writing meaningless prose? Is it plain inability to write? Is it the inordinate desire to impress but lacking the charm and vocabulary to do so? Is it too much obedience to the siren call of “publish or perish,” even if one does not have a single substantial idea to share? Is it the plain inability to think, or perhaps the even graver sin of mistaking the process as the simple piling up of word upon word to form at least a crude chunk of wisdom?

Look at the following actual examples of failed prose to get a clearer idea of the problem:

“If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars, we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by telephone.” (“If you have any questions, please call.”)

“The noncompensable evaluation heretofore assigned to you as a war veteran for your service-connected disability is hereby confirmed and continued.” (“We regret to confirm that your claim for compensation as a war veteran has been disapproved.”)

“The influence exerted by Christianity upon the arts extends to painting and sculpture insofar as their relationship to Christian religious experiences corresponds to that part of this experience which consists of images, and extends to architecture, both with regard to edifices dedicated to worship and to the settlement of religious communities.” (“Christianity has profoundly influenced painting and sculpture particularly in showing a wide array of images of the religious experience. In architecture, it has also influenced the design of churches and the communities of the faithful.”)

“Conceptualizing the multiple relations into which they enter, and which they mediate, through Serres’ notion of the parasite, the manifold and complex shifts between the semiotic and the material, the intersubjective and the interobjective (and permutations thereof), and the broader implications of this analysis for the theorization of the object will be explored.”  (My attempts to make sense of this did not work. Try it if you can.)

I shiver when I see gobbledygook like these nibbling at the sinews of our English. I begin to feel a clear danger that we may all become android gobbledygooks, half-human and half-machine, unless we learn how to clarify our thoughts with a little more precision and write them in plain and simple English. This is something for our educators to ponder on deeply and honestly. And I submit that this learning process should begin early in life, now, right when the child starts figuring out his ABCs, then continue without letup until he finishes school, earns a living, gets wed, and makes his own little social and genetic contribution to the perpetuation of his own species. (circa 2002-2003)

This essay first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times and subsequently appeared as Chapter 12 of Part I: Our Uses and Misuses of English of his book English Plain and Simple: No-Nonsense Ways to Learn Today’s Global Language, © 2004 by Jose A. Carillo, © 2008 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
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