Words: Management

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The Independent Online
KOREAN AIRLINES has had a bad press since that alarming crash at Stansted, with grim catalogues being given of its dubious safety record. It has been suffering from "severe management problems", wrote the Independent's transport correspondent on the morning after, while an air safety expert on the BBC's Today programme wondered whether the trouble was to be found in "cockpit resource management". The phrase was not his own, but seems to be part of the vocabulary of the airline industry. I suppose we must forgive the airlines for trying to find an important way of saying these things. "How many people do we need on the flight deck?" would sound a bit pathetic, and would inspire little confidence.

But apart from all that, don't you start yawning these days when you hear the word management? Everyone is managing something or someone, except for a minority who are being managed. Personally I have never been able to take the word too seriously since I read the last of Paul Scott's novels about the Raj, Staying On. Remember the dictatorial Indian hotelier and her henpecked spouse? She was Ownership. He, poor chap, was only Management.

Every ambitious schoolchild aspires to Management, even if it's only Middle. It's true that managing a pop group or a football team has glamour; but to my mind neither is quite as glamorous as the original kind of managing, which was almost exclusively concerned with horses. Manage used at first to be spelt "manege" - probably, the Oxford English Dictionary tells me, because it came from the Italian maneggiare. This was the Italians' word for training and handling the noble beast, particularly the more fiery sort. The manege in the 17th century was either a riding school or the art of making a horse do as it was told; in those days the ability to manage a snorting steed was regarded as one of the most important marks of a gentleman.

The parent word is manus, the Latin for "hand", as in manufacture, which is now about things not made by hand, but that's another story. There was always a good deal of confusion about manage, though. It sounded too like the French menage, an entirely different animal. Menage is from the same family as maison and is therefore concerned with the house and not the stable. In the days before women stopped being thought inferior creatures it seemed reasonable to call a wife an excellent manager without anyone thinking about boardrooms, let alone stable yards. Mrs Beeton's great work (whose original edition of 1861 was entirely written by her, and certainly not by her husband Sam, as has been suggested) was called Beeton's Book of Household Management, and management must have seemed to her and to her readers the mot juste. Wasn't managing a household just what the word actually meant?

Now, of course, it has left the house again and is to be found everywhere, but chiefly among the suits and power-dressers, all of them managing away like mad. Or else in the kindergarten, whose clients are just learning to manage their shoelaces.