Has anyone been reaching out to you lately?
No, I don’t mean reaching out like the monster we see here, though there are monstrous doings afoot.
I’m talking about the nasty kind of reaching out newspeak (© G Orwell) that apparently means “contact” or “get in touch with”. You might have read it, for example, in those interminable emails about how important you, the customer, are to business X and how much X values your input. So they invite you to start “reaching out” to X’s “customer care” team to give X feedback on how wonderful they are (not).
[I may have to come back to “customer care” one of these days.]
Dross, Rubbish, Junk, Debris, Detritus? Take your pick…
What have we poor benighted English-speakers done to be saddled with this newspeak dross? (You may prefer other words to dross. The Thesaurus has many, many of them. Take your pick.)
To be fair, rubbish heaps (though not heaps of slag or dross like the one shown here) do have their uses, apart from being places to dump “reaching out” and the like.
I am told, by my birdwatching friends, that rubbish dumps are an ideal place to see birds. Sometimes quite exotic birds, too.
Must say that I admire said birdwatchers’ abilities to
(a) get up before dawn, and
(b) ignore the smell of such festering dumps. (Discarded words smell too, but birds avoid them.)
Personally, I would pass. The only birds that visit my local rubbish dumps appear to be seagulls. Not my favourite birds. And yes, I do know they are supposedly endangered. That doesn’t stop them reaching out to dive-bomb people at seaside resorts, though, does it?
Where did reaching out come from?
I suspect that it came across the pond from the USA. Why is it, I wonder, that so many examples of mangled English cross the Atlantic from west to east and so few go the other way? Two countries divided by a common language. Common? Really?
There are two often-repeated reasons for the almost one-way traffic. First, that the English-speakers in the USA outnumber those in the UK by roughly five to one; and numbers are bound to count. Second, that the USA exports a vast amount of cultural output—written material, films, TV shows, film and TV stars themselves—around the world which influences the English we speak and the English we perceive to be normal.
But I think there’s a third reason. And it’s potentially malign.
I am referring to management-speak, based around sometimes oddball American management theories about how organisations should be run. There are more and more of them.
Is reaching out part of that?
You can imagine the rationale:
Here in the 21st century, when everyone is into social media, and likes, friends etc matter so much, organisations need to demonstrate that they care about their employees and especially their customers. So language needs to become more touchy-feely, more inclusive, less formal.
“Contact us” is cold and formal.
“Reach out to us” sounds as if we’re ready for a hug.
It doesn’t actually mean anything, of course, and our customer service will be no better than it was when customers “contacted” us, but they’ll feel better about us because of the warmer language. Also it costs us nothing. What’s not to like?
Everything, I would say. (I am the one on the right, please note.)
Is sharing worse than reaching out?
I am told that the latest abomination is sharing. Another of those social media words, I fear.
Sharing, to me, means dividing an item, like a bar of chocolate, so that more than one person may have some. It is often something that happens between friends, between equals.
If I take a contract to provide a report to a client about, say, their appalling customer care practices, I will do my review and submit or present my report. They are paying my fee, after all.
They are entitled to demand the report (even if they won’t like what I’m saying in it).
I do not expect to receive a response in which the client says, “Thank you for sharing.”
The report is not a bar of chocolate. And the client is not my friend.
We have a business relationship. The client is a paying client.
I am the consultant who is sending in a serious report. For a serious fee.
Serious relationships require serious English not newspeak babble
It may be that the pass is already sold on reaching out and sharing. I sincerely hope not, though it may already be too late to stop further contamination.
My professional advice (free of charge in this case) is to use serious language for serious relationships, especially businesslike relationships such as those with clients. If you mean “contact us“, then say so. If you want to invite customers to phone, write, email, text, etc… say so. Though the generic “contact us” would cover all of those options.
Why not use it?
I should perhaps add that I will happily volunteer to wring the necks of those who continue to use “reaching out“, “sharing” and other such affronts to the English language. Such abominations should have been strangled at birth, but later will have to do, it appears.
I hope you will take heed…
Thank you for reading.
Thank you for sharing your opinion on this ghastly corruption of the language, Dame Pedantique-Ryte. I have taken it on board… Ducks and runs.
No need to run, Liz, m’dear. I know you are on the side of the language angels.
Good morning, Dame Isadora. I venture to point out, however much I agree with your thoughts on this matter, that, as my father informed me when I was but a child, “contact” is not a verb. I have been forced to accept, however, that our language changes over time, and I do believe that the word may now appear in some updated dictionaries, much as I deplore the fact.
I would add to your list the deplorable euphemisms “passed on”, “passed over” or, worse, simply “passed”. Passed what, for goodness’ sake? The cake? The sugar? The end of the road? These rank, in my not-so-humble opinion, with such disgusting wrecks of English language as (I can hardly bear to write this) “Hubby” and “Holibobs”. There are many more, but I fear the red mist is descending. Yours faithfully, L Cookman (Mrs.)
What an interesting reply, Lesley. Your father was clearly a wise man but, as you say, that pass has been sold. Long, long ago, I fear. The habit of turning nouns into verbs is another American import and some of them are utterly horrible, such as “to medal” at the Olympics. I do not have access to my OED at the moment, so I cannot check when “contact” first appeared as a verb. I will do so when I can.
I am not surprised that the red mist descends on you for those other euphemisms. I too deplore “passed” but it is now used so frequently that I doubt even people of greater sense, such as you and I, can halt its progress.
SO agree. Transparently phoney.
In fact, whenever someone says they are reaching out to me, it makes me think of snake-oil salesmen – a borrowing from the US that I thoroughly approve of.
“Transparently phoney” is exactly the case, Jenny. (Though “phoney” is also a US import, of course. Still, it serves a purpose, like snake-oil salesman.)
Great article, which really made me laugh – something we all need on a regular basis at the moment. My pet hate is when you ask someone how they are, they reply ‘I’m good’. I didn’t ask about their behaviour, I asked about their health! But actually there are so many, I could be here for days. But in a way, I am with Lesley, as language does change and that is no bad thing (possibly).
You sound like a sad pragmatist. Perhaps we all have to be that, nowadays? But you are right about “I’m good”. Who on earth coined that abomination? And why do normal, sensible people copy it? Sometimes, one despairs about the future of our beautiful language.
That’s me! Also I was reading a criticism in a newspaper today about how they are expecting King Charles to be ‘coronated’ next year, rather than crowned. I really hope that doesn’t become common usage
I had heard that once or twice. I had hoped and assumed — clearly I was wrong — that people who had no proper understanding of English were mistakenly creating what might seem the obvious verb from the noun “coronation”. If that horror takes off, we sad pragmatists had better emigrate.
Oh, dear. Yes, it’s a peculiarity, dear Dame, and I share your aversion. It is so prevalent, I have found myself almost writing it before checking myself and putting in acceptable English instead. Thank goodness, or I would be in your black books.
I cannot imagine you would ever be in my black books, Liz dear.
I agree that language changes, and should change. But I object to changes that obscure meaning or reduce the subtlety of language or just add unnecessary verbiage. “Reaching out” and “share” used like that are both prime examples. I’m still in the trenches over “invite” as a noun and “I was sat” – who sat you?
A very fair point, Louise, about obscuring meaning. Like you, I dislike “invite” as a noun when we have a perfectly good word in “invitation”. “I was sat” is horrid but is becoming increasingly common, sadly.