Gobbledygook by Don Watson

Gobbledygook by Don Watson

Watson’s slim book on jargon is in the form of a discursive essay tracing the history of “sludge and management-speak” back to the rise of business schools and the large corporations which employ their graduates. He follows this sludge into public speech, media jargon and the workplace. An irreverent look at management and the language it uses is welcome. Why and whither are we all going forward? Why are we enhancing? Why are we content to call parents and students consumers? Once one begins to deconstruct the language, the deconstruction of ideas follows.

Watson is good on the parrot aspect of jargon: it catches on unquestioned. There is nothing sadder than the previous decade’s buzz words:

In institutions where we might expect the most resistance the capitulation is most complete. Managerialism came to the universities as the German army came to Poland. Now they talk about achieved learning outcomes, quality assurance mechanisms and international benchmarking.

Watson argues that such jargon is inadequate and unnecessary, a language of public-relations rather than truth telling. Here, he echoes Orwell’s view of the function of jargon – the little lie masking the bigger lie.

A glossary of jargon provides much fun. Here they all are, the linguistic sludge, the tired baseball terms, the strutting verbs, the midget words on elevator shoes: issue, implement, input, core, key, strategic, deliver, workshop, scenario, point in time.

Now that documents are being generated about documents, Watson’s little book is as astringent as a good mouthwash.



Konrad Witz 3

Konrad Witz The Synagoge

Ecclesia also grasps her cross from under her scarlet robe; in her right hand she balances a chalice on which a single host is in turn balanced by divine funambulism. The square shape of the canvas – in Ecclesia and The Synagogue – helps reinforce the confined unreality of the two pictures. In The Synagogue, the yellow-robed figure has her eyes closed and the standard she carries is elegantly snapped off, unrealistically so, below the nib-like tip.

Konrad Witz Ecclesia


Konrad Witz 2: St. Bartholomew

















The connection between Konrad Witz’s paintings and those of Francis Bacon, what makes the former modernistic and the latter classical in his execution, is the way they frame their subjects with planes and lines of perspective: both seek pictorial depth by playing with flatness. Witz’s St. Bartholomew (1435), Ecclesia (1435) and The Synagogue (1435) all cram their subjects into foreshortened rooms or alcoves where the picture surface is the fourth wall; pediments and columns of grey stone and plaster, their corners bevelled, look like modern reinforced concrete. A window, without glass or shutters, in each of the three canvases, seems impossibly angled. Witz is interested in the flat plane of colour (muted behind the vivid drapery), and in the way these planes hit off against each other. St. Bartholomew, curly-haired, bearded, simian, is holding a red-bound, gilt-edged Bible in his left hand, a knife in the other. The hidden hand clasps the knife from under his ornate, jewel-bordered vestment, as though Witz didn’t know how to do hands. The slight menace of this, the deep dramatic shadow cast behind him, as well as the rough paintwork of the face, remind me of other moderns – Magritte, Hopper.