21 December 2016

I hope you are Unhelpful UPDATE

SOME JOLLY GOOD MATERIALS ON THE THREAD
From time to time, I address you on the sophisms and manipulations of Management-talk ... the way our Masters talk. Today, I invite you join me in analysis of a particular word: "unhelpful". I have recently read a few words by an English-speaking prelate referring to the Letter of the 45, which I, all unworthy, was privileged to sign. He found it "unhelpful".

Where I've got to so far is something like this.

'Unhelpful' corrupts judgement because it avoids questions of right and wrong. If it does elicit a dialogue, the dialogue has been required to be about whether the words concerned are helpful ... whatever that may mean ... rather than about their possible truth.

'Unhelpful' in fact implies, generally mendaciously, that there is an aim shared by all reasonable people, which some 'unhelpful' people have blundered into obstructing.

Use of adjectives like 'Unhelpful' enables the speaker (this is a common feature of much modern Management-talk) to maintain a lofty, Olympian posture of imperturbable and superior composure. Another example: Management-talkers will say "Concern has been expressed about your XYZ" because that is calm and distanced ... so very unlike speaking the the truth (which would be "Your XYZ has made me hopping mad"). Management-talkers [this is the verbal game which is being set up] are calm and dispassionate people, simply because they are such enormously great men. 'Unhelpful' means "I am very angry with you, nasty little nuisance that you are, for saying ABC because it cuts across the policies advocated by me and my almost-equally-important cronies ... indeed, it (unhelpfully!) gives away the radical fact that this is a matter about which there is disagreement ... whereas there isn't ... because there shouldn't be".

There is an amusing additional nuance about 'Unhelpful'. Often I detect a hint in this word suggesting that if you had expressed yourself more quietly and more deferentially, Authority would have been more sympathetic because it could have grandly  treated you as a poor sad thing needing TLC and help. We had all this in the C of E when they were bringing in their Women Bishops. They wouldn't have minded if we had played the role they had assigned to us: of being dim and pathetic losers. If we had snivelled quietly in a corner, they would have been all over us, arms round our shoulders and "Believe me, we do feel your pain". But we were bold and confident and we won all the arguments and we expressed ourselves in public and private fora where we were heard, and we got a great many wonderful laughs out of exposing the absurdities, hypocrisies, and dishonesties of our opponents. Archdeacon Armitage Shanks and all the rest of them, how they hated it! How truly 'unhelpful' they found it! They then imported their blessed term 'tone' into the argument. We were (of course) entitled to express our 'views', but our 'tone' was disgraceful. Believe me, when Grand People, when the Great and the Good, start telling you that it is your tone that they do not like, Rejoice and Be Glad and go home and have a nice big Drink, celebrating quia merces vestra magna est in caelo.

(In the end, by the way, we did clamber up onto the podium to collect the Gold Medal, because there was a Somebody in Rome with whom we had been in touch since the 1990s and who had listened to us and taken us seriously and understood us and who gave us that Corporate Unity with the See of S Peter for which generations of our forbears had longed.) 

Over to you!! Two generations ago, English philologists demonstrated and analysed (seminally, Professor Alan Ross in 1954) the distinction between U talk and Non-U talk ['U' means 'Upper-class']. How about M and Non-M? You must all have experienced Management-talk? You might even (now, here's a thought) be Management-talkers! 

 Examples ... analysis ...

39 comments:

neilmac said...

How about these weasel words?

"compliance" - suggesting that it is indeed "meet and right" to do or not to do something that management wants, combined with an implied threat.

"for your safety and comfort" - usually meaning "for the management's convenience.

"consultation" - a pretence at eliciting views on a subject where the decision has already been taken, in order to give the appearance of being "open".

"open" as in "open to discussion" - really meaning that management has a completely rigid view on something.

"flexible" - only applies when management wants others to change their minds; never applies to management itself whose views are "de jure" correct and never to be challenged.

"listening" - listening, but paying absolutely no attention to the facts or arguments.

"thinking out of the box" cf. "thinking the unthinkable" - again only applies where management wishes to change the views of others - never means that something, no matter how beneficial, may be done to the discomfort of management.

"collegiality" (in Catholic Church) - where two or three liberals are gathered together. A term used to promote the liberal consensus. It may never be used to describe traditionalists. E.g. one is unlikely to see the following: "The four 'dubia' cardinals embody the principle of collegiality in defending Church doctrine".

"subsidiarity" and "delegation" - usually used to mean that all responsibility for taking the blame is devolved downwards, while power and control remain firmly in the hands of management.

"people think that..." but the only people management ever refers to in this way are those in agreement with itself. It avoids the questions: Which people? How many? Are they right?

"tolerant" - not quite the totem word it used to be, but still used to means we must be accepting of all the views management holds, but of no other views.

"the spirit of Vatican 2" (specifically the Catholic Church)- this means that anything at all may (or, indeed, must) be done if it fits a liberal agenda, no matter that it flatly contradicts the actual documents of that Council, or Church teaching.

"mercy" (currently a 'buzz' word in the Catholic Church) - wrenched from its proper meaning to mean: to be tolerant of and promote all views amenable to management, but repress, sometimes viciously and forcefully, all that do not accord with management's current stance.

Christopher Boegel said...

M 30AD: the Pharisees tested him: Is it lawful to divorce?
Non-M 30 AD: What God has joined let NO MAN put asunder.
M 30 AD: Then the Pharisees replied: Why did Moses allow us to divorce?
Non-M 30 AD: I am greater than Moses, and I say if you divorce and marry another, you commit adultery.

M 21st C: it is merciful to allow divorce and remarriage, and if you disagree with me, you are just like the Pharisees who opposed the merciful Jesus.
Non-M 21st C: I disagree with you, and by the way, Jesus was opposing the Pharisees when he commanded that marriage is indissoluble, so your position contradicts the command of the merciful Jesus.

Little Black Sambo said...

"To enable us to give a better service."

Nicolas Bellord said...

I wonder whether all this is not more serious than just the use of management-speak. Modernism is often talked about as the great danger but I wonder whether we are not heading into post-modernism where nothing has any meaning. Is it a modern form of nominalism where universals and abstract ideas have no place? Certainly I wonder whether Pope Francis is not a nominalist as he uses words such as 'mercy', 'discernment', 'casuistry' etc and I just wonder what he means by these words. Saying anything definite is dismissed as a form of oppression to be banned. Perhaps language will cease to have any meaning at all. There is an interesting essay on post-modernism in Thomas Storck's "From Christendom to Americanism and Beyond - the Long Jagged Trail to a Postmodern Void".

Rusty Angler said...

How about this one:

"...I am not sure we have provided you with sufficient support through this...", which really means "...we don't understand you. We know you don't agree, and knowing you don't agree leaves us uncomfortable, since it pricks our conscience..."

Fr Ray Blake said...

Great men also let it be known they are 'displeased', deeply worrying if you are a careerist. 'Displeased' and 'unhelpful' are the words of the intellectually bankrupt.

Ben Trovato said...

Appropriate is the nearest we find in M to a clear judgement. M does not like the clarity (and arguability) of 'right' or 'wrong.' It actually means 'management-approved.' It hides the questions: appropriate for what end? Who decides? etc. To be 'Inappropriate,' of course, is at least an offence worthy of discipline ('Performance Management') and possibly of sacking ('parting company').

GOR said...

I suspect Management would find the Ten Commandments ‘unhelpful’ as well. I mean, they are rather rigid aren’t they? Not much wriggle room, eh? Not really ‘pastoral’ after all.

Instead of “Thou shalt not…” one might expect “One would prefer that…” or “It is to be hoped that…”

Dr. Adam DeVille said...

In general I have seen the managerial mob, bourgeois parents, and writers of professional codes of conduct use "inappropriate" as synonymous with "unhelpful," in just the ways you articulate. All three groups seem to have had the language of "right and wrong" bred out of them, or otherwise developed severe allergies to similar straightforward public utterances.

Martin said...

Maybe 'not OK' and 'unacceptable', among others, play a similiar role, in replacing 'wrong', and supporting a non-objective and rapidly changing morality.

Woody said...

Dear Father, do I detect a hint of deja vu? And are we Latins on the same slippery slope, just not so far down...yet?

Romulus said...

"Up to a point, Lord Copper."

Catechist Kev said...

How about "empower(ment)" or "ownership"?

Whenever I hear these words I have no idea whatsoever as to their definitions.

Catechist Kev

Tamsin said...

The Management-speak I find most alarming is the use of the word "address". One no longer solves a problem, one addresses an issue or concern or question.

It is beautifully fit for use by politicians and bureaucrats who know in advance they will not solve any problems once for all, but who intend to do the next best thing: speak to it or at it, and in a way that maintains them in power.

It is a locution formed in our post-modern world in which there are no objective realities, only subjective narratives to be imposed by one person on another.

Mark said...

"But I wasn't trying to help you! (in what you're doing)" Said I. "I was trying to save your (or my) soul."

or

"Thank you, that was what I was attempting. I was only expecting to help a little, if at all."

Zephyrinus said...

Potentially, a huge subject to discourse upon, dear Fr.

Much easier to just "run it up the flag-pole and see how it flies".

in Domino.

vetusta ecclesia said...


In liturgical areas "for pastoral reasons" = for the convenience of the pastor or to indulge his hobbyhorse

scotchlil said...

Memory occasionally fails me, but was it not the late Dr Mascall who wrote of "replacing 'I believe' with 'one does feel...'"?

overcaffeinated said...

Nicolas Bellord- I came across a remarkable example of that in this article-
http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1351432?eng=y (also here: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/synod-fathers-rejected-communion-for-remarried-divorcees )
Abp. Cupich: "Some still fail to understand, [they think] it’s either black or white, even if it is in the flux of life you must discern." "The flux of life," any ideas what that means? He seems to suggest that we be led primarily by the very impermanence of the temporal world. How does that make sense even as a secular philosophy much less as Christianity?

He continues, "Life is full of ambiguity, but the important thing is to bring an attitude of discernment to a situation." Is it too much to ask that the pope complete his discernment before writing these documents? But it is not even an intellectual thought process with a goal of deciding one way or the other, is it? but an "attitude." "Discernment" then seems to mean something like "make it up as you go along, as long as you do exactly what we are obliquely hinting at." (Communion for divorced and remarried in this case.) Whew.

Another term this group likes to use is "magisterial." (Also Cupich, AL is a "magisterial document".) This seems to roughly translate to "shut up."

Thomas said...

"Unfortunate" is one of the more ominous weasel responses to reasoned criticism. It is code for: I am going to make you suffer for challenging my authority/exposing the hypocrisy of what I am doing/showing me up by demonstrating that you are more intelligent than I am/getting in the way of done deal and making my life difficult with my backers (take your pick of any or all of the above). So although I will continue to smile at you like an alligator and speak in a controlled tone because I hold all the cards and can afford to patronise you, get ready to be sidelined or worse. Watch your back from now on boy!

loretta cloudlover said...

On the other hand, occasionally M does speak with remarkably definitive clarity: "The sewer line is scheduled for installation at an as yet unspecified date".

Liam Ronan said...

@ overcaffeinated,

The 'flux' is another term for dysentery. There is, of course, a grave condition called the 'bloody flux' which is unhelpful to contract at any time especially in the middle of discerning.

mormorador said...



From academia but probably goes for the generic managerials too: non-M people who do something bad are not chided for doing something wrong, but told they must move toward best practice, or move toward a space where they can embrace best practice.

Best Practice can change at the whim of the M class, depending on what the Gramscian calculus of the decade is.

Non confrontational, and allows the M class to change the compass points to suit itself!

William said...

@scotchlil: It sounds so much like the mighty Mascall, but is in fact Ronald Knox (Absolute and Abitofhell):
When suave politeness, temp'ring bigot zeal,
Corrected I believe to One does feel.

mormorador said...


My personal term from academia, although probably originating in business/govt - the M people do not tell non-M people they are doing something bad or wrong, instead, they say that they "need to move to best practice" or "work towards a space to embrace best practice". This means no awkwardness for the M people over yesterday's bad becoming today's good, and the M people can maintain control not only of what the non-M's do, but the 'space' in which they do it, ie. their thoughts and dispositions. And everything is moving somewhere, nothing is concrete and tied down. Lovely for the M's.

William said...

@vetusta ecclesia: Well, that's fair enough, surely. Doesn't "pastoral" mean "of or appertaining to a pastor"? So whatever the pastor's reasons may be (e.g. not interfering with his round of golf) are, by definition, "pastoral reasons".

mormorador said...


My personal favourite is a phrase encountered in academia, although probably originating in business/govt - the M people do not tell non-M people they are doing something bad or wrong, instead, they say that they "need to move to best practice" or "work towards a space to embrace best practice". This means no awkwardness for the M people over yesterday's bad becoming today's good, and the M people can maintain control not only of what the non-M's do, but the 'space' in which they do it, i.e. their thoughts and dispositions and inner life (q.v. "LGBTQI ally" in the office). And everything is moving somewhere, nothing is concrete and tied down. Lovely for the M's: total control in all modes, but as euphemistically soft as freshly fallen snow...

The Saint Bede Studio said...

Has "exploring synergies" now passed from current management-speak?

scotchlil said...

My slightly ashamed apology for the misattribution of the quotation in my earlier comment. The motto of my late and lamented mentor, Fr Donald Nicholson, was 'Always verify your references!'. On doing so I realised that the author of the comment was, in fact, Mgr Knox - “When suave politeness, temp’ring bigot zeal, Corrected ‘I believe’ to ‘One does feel’”

Alan said...

My Ph.D. research was on corporate communication with employees. The groups of shop stewards whom I interviewed, irrespective of their formal level of education, were well able to understand management obfuscation. Someone in every group robustly described his/her management's communication with subordinates as - ahem! - the by-product of a male cow.

In the world of politics, Professor Norman Fairclough's "New Labour, New Language" is a fascinating analysis of the use of language in the Blair era, where an ideological move (in this case, to the right of historical Labour positions) was passed off as "modernisation".

In the ecclesiastical field, a recent piece in the Grauniad by Paul Vallely is fascinating in its presentation of AL supporters as "moderate".

Nicolas Bellord said...

Overcaffeinated: A good example is the word 'discernment'. Pope Francis advocates it but distinguishes it from casuistry without telling us how. From what his apologists say it means more than just finding out the facts of a person's situation but going into some sort of spiritual land of 'concrete reality' which seems anything other than concrete but rather some of gnostic world inaccessible to the likes of myself where no doubt the flux of life will be discussed but not rationalised in any way. I wonder whether it is not akin to 'direction of intention'. This is discussed by Blaise Pascal in his seventh letter from a provincial as being a technique promoted by Spanish Jesuits at that time. Effectively 'direction of intention' was a priest directing someone to suss out a secondary intention in doing some act where the obvious intention was evil. Thus a man who deliberately killed another would have the primary intention of killing him but the secondary intention of preserving his honour having been insulted. Preserving one's honour is good and therefore the secondary intention absolves the crime of murder.

I trust Pope Francis thinks we ought to evangelise but he says we must not proselytise; again without explaining the difference. Such words are not given any meaning.

Nicolas Bellord said...

scotchlil: Remember we had 'We believe' in the Creed until fairly recently. It meant 'I know the Church and those around me possibly do believe but personally I am not so sure'.

KaeseEs said...

So is "pastoral accompaniment" M-speak for "leading people down a merry path to hell by telling them comforting lies"?

ansgarus said...



M 30AD: What is truth?
Non-M 30 AD: I am the way, the truth and the life.

Mike Hurcum said...

Alan
I am enamoured with the phrase the ink they use comes from "the nether end of a bull". I use it often in my blog and I feel it is understood.

ffcfcfcfcf said...

The one that gets me is "Reach out"

Instead of saying "Give Bill a call in Cleveland. He will tell you how to get this done"

They say "Reach out to Bill in Cleveland."

Everytime they say it, all I can see is a baby sitting on the floor, reaching out to its Mother.

I want to vomit everytime I hear it. It IS baby talk.

Christopher Boegel said...

M-speak: "we regret you have a different point-of-view" - meaning we hate what you believe, and we are going to try to make it impossible for you to live or move until you submit to our non-sense.

Pastor in Monte said...

How about 'inclusive'?
Five men and five women — inclusive.
Ten women and no men — very inclusive.

Tamquam said...

All this puts me in mind of two books, one new and one old, which as a hopefully good steward I mention for our mutual delectation.

Old: The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis
New: SJWs Always Lie, Vox Day