John Humphrys: why businessmen really get up my nose

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The Independent Online

He is known for his sharp questioning of evasive politicians on Radio 4's Today show. But now John Humphrys has castigated businessmen - for crimes against the English language. Writing the introduction to a book on plain English, Mr Humphrys attacks frequent linguistic abuses and names business people as "the real villains". Management speak has invaded our lives, like a loathsome serpent "choking the life out of our language", Mr Humphrys says in Between You and I, A Little Book of Bad English, written by James Cochrane. His own pet hate is the way nouns, such as "impact", are used as verbs. "'Fast track' was bad enough when it was over-used as a noun. It is unspeakable as a verb," he says. He also condemns phrases such as "human resources" for eroding effective communication.

"It is an outrage that the phrase 'human resources' was not strangled at birth. A moment's thought tells you that 'resources' are exploited, used up, squeezed for every last drop of value and then replaced. Are we really meant to regard human beings in that light?" he fumes. Not that he is opposed to change. "It is silly to imagine that this evolution can be halted. But that is different from hoisting the white flag and surrendering to linguistic anarchy." His comments, which will be published on 2 October by Icon Books at £9.99, are bound to provoke debate at a time when his Today programme colleague Andrew Gilligan is under attack at the Hutton inquiry for a lack of care in his use of English.

For, as Mr Humphrys observes: "Language is about subtlety and nuance. It is powerful and it is potent." E-mail with its disregard for punctuation is partly to blame. "Ultimately, no doubt, we shall communicate with a series of grunts - and the evolutionary wheel will have turned full circle." That would make listening to Today a trifle tricky.

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