Confessions of a language fascist – and an ass-kicker from way-back!

Lately, I have been slagging off phrases that annoy me, simply because everyone repeats them, from car ads to technology companies, inspirational phrases like, “It’s at the heart of what we do” – or – “It’s in our DNA”, which every goddamn BBC documentary has wheeled out for the last three or four years, and I feel frustrated that nobody can see them for what they are – terrible cliches that get repeated over and over again.

And then, like all times I go off on a mental witch-hunt, I start to feel uneasy, and wonder if perhaps I haven’t done the same thing in some distant past.

There was a song that I had liked on a mixtape back in the noughties. I had looked it up at the time and found out it was French — and then forgotten what it was; but the dynamic violin in this song had stayed with me, and so recently, I searched for it again, knowing that it was by Jean-Luc Ponty, but not knowing it’s name. I discovered that it was called ‘Individual Choice’.

Now ‘individual choice’ was a term that I remembered people using a lot in heated conversations in coffee-shops when I was fresh out of high-school discovering the counter-culture of innercity Sydney. Absorbing it myself, it soon began to crop up in my own heated conversations with friends — along with other phrases like ‘fatal flaw.’

So in a sentence it would sound something like,

“I think that no matter what happens in life, everybody has individual choice; it’s up to them whether they want to do something good, or something bad —  except, maybe, for that fatal flaw that trips them up, like greed or anger, and that’s only because they don’t have the courage to be true to themselves.”

Aha!  — There is another one: ‘be true to yourself.’

Despite having it all wrapped up back then, philosophically, I was, without knowing it, part of a greater conspiracy, where words, poetic images and metaphors, all come down from above, from the popular books, pop ideologies and movies of the time, spread sideways by good old-fashioned human contact.

And so there it was — I had been perpetuating exactly the same crime that I was now angry at others for, except that I just couldn’t see it back then: I was too close to the coalface!

In all honesty, I think that it is important to try and wrestle yourself free of cliches, and find some images and metaphors that have to do with your own life experience — and not just something you’ve picked up along the way; though it’s not always so easy to do.

But I also think it’s important to try and soothe an overactive mind with memory-inducing, galaxy-tripping, zeitgeist-smashing music — and that’s why this post is also about Jean Luc-Ponty: he is an ass-kicker from way-back!

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  1. Thanks for reaching out with this. You’ve really taken responsibility by taking ownership of the core issues. But moving forward, it might be time to take stock of your human capital, and start a conversation about how we can all pull together to achieve a high performance culture based on inclusiveness

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