I called a friend’s mobile today and it went to their message service. “Hi. The person you have called is not available. Please leave a short 10 second message after the tone and we’ll send the message as a text.” This message is pre-scripted and cannot be changed by the user. Supposedly, this huge multi-national telecommunications organisation would have had a committee of linguists and language experts to decide on the most succinct string of words to convey the required message. After all the discussion by said committee, why did they need the word ‘short’? Tell me the difference between a ‘short’ 10 second message and a ‘long’ 10 second message. How do those two compare to a ‘medium length’ 10 second message?
We seem to accept a variety of common expressions that don’t actually convey the true meaning. Every day I hear someone tell me they have something that is ‘pretty unique’ or ‘very unique’. I am sorry but you don’t actually have something very unique. It is either unique – or it isn’t. Unique is not the same as grey – there are not fifty shades of it. Unique is a binary condition.
The murdering of the English language continues. The word between is specifically designed to relate to two items. You can’t sit down for a coffee with a group of friends and share a cookie between you – unless the entire group is dieting and only two of you are eating. You can, however, share a cookie among friends. I hope never to be on a plane when it crashes but there is one carrier in particular that I want to avoid a crash-landing with. On a recent journey the helpful cabin crew pointed out my nearest emergency exit and then required me to identify an alternate exit. I am not sure that passengers would be happy taking it in turns between two exits. I am sure the airline wanted us to identify an alternative exit which seems like a much better option.
I don’t have a hypothesis as to why society seems to adopt a maxim of close enough is good enough but there is one area where it seems to me that precision is required. Politicians are expected to know every full stop and miniscule detail of every policy that is currently before them. We have seen our Prime Minister and Treasurer dragged over the coals for “a complete lack of understanding” of the current budget they have before the people of Australia. This total lack of understanding, apparently, was due to the fact that when the PM was asked, on a live radio interview, about the minute details of the GP fee and the safety net, a mistake was made in relation to who the safety net applied to. The Treasurer made a similar mistake in relation the GP fee and chronic illnesses. I am not defending the PM and Treasurer specifically but the community’s expectation that politicians can always have all information at their fingertips and always have it 100 per cent accurate is unrealistic. We are talking at Federal level here but it even comes back to our local budget and revenue policy. We currently have this document on display to the public. We have a $168 million budget. It would be impossible to expect any Councillor to be able to know every page of our budget to the level of detail where they could answer questions with 100 per cent accuracy on any line item in this budget. Generic areas; major changes; significant expenditure. Sure. Going down to a much lower level though and you really need the full document in front of you with enough time to go through the document and read it in detail.
And, actually, that is what I encourage you to do. Until 30 May, our full budget is on display and available for download at www.dubbo2036.com.au. We have a much better system than the federal budget. We don’t need public protests or shock-jocks trying to trip up Councillors – we simply encourage our residents to read areas of the budget that apply to them (or all of the budget if they want) and then send a submission into Council by 30 May. I can guarantee that all of these submissions will be read and the information contained within will be used in the decision making process. It may not mean that you get exactly what you ask for but your time is certainly not wasted. In fact, this is one of the areas of local government that I love. Local governments regularly put items out on public display and we really want to hear what people have to say. It is raw democracy at its best.
Now please excuse me while I chase some signwriters who persist in adding apostrophes every time a word turns into a plural…