Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Words That Really Move Us

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Words That Really Move Us

Article excerpt

A colleague has invited my attention to a little bit of recent kvetching by a New York Times technology writer about the funny way airline staff talk:

" 'We do ask that you remain seated....' 'We do anticipate touching down on time....' 'We do realize that you do have a choice in travel carriers....'

"What's with that? Every one of those sentences would work better without the 'do.' It's as though they're arguing a point that nobody has actually challenged. Are they just so bored with those speeches that they feel compelled to insert random words just for variety?"

As a collective verbal tic of a whole industry, airline-speak goes beyond needless emphatic verb forms (e.g., "we do realize" instead of the simpler "we realize"). It extends to time-filling verbosities ("We will be starting the boarding process," instead of "We will board"), peculiarities of intonation (especially odd stresses on prepositions, as in "Welcome to the Boston area"), and the overgeneralized, all-things-to-all-people locutions such as "Welcome to the Boston area, or wherever your final destination happens to be," as if someone has just remembered all those folks looking to make the last flight to Bangor, Maine, tonight.

And those seat-belt instructions!

I think I know why airline staff talk like this: They're in an industry that combines the glamorous and the monotonous, an industry that grew up under heavy government regulation, right down to the scripted safety announcements. Cabin crews have a lot to think about as they prepare for takeoff, and it surely must help them to have their spiels memorized.

And yet I understand why airline-speak bugs the Times writer. It bugs me, too. This kind of disengaged language should not be part of the soundscape of travel.

The stationmaster's voice calling "All aboard!" as we hop onto the train is, on the other hand, an example of words that really move us. …

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