Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Speaking in Plane English

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Speaking in Plane English

Article excerpt

YOU are seated on a Florida-bound airplane, reading a magazine at 35,000 feet. Suddenly the plane encounters turbulence, and the flight attendant makes a hasty announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has illuminated the seat-belt sign."

Illuminated? Over the scratchy public-address system, the word sounds like eliminated, which would give everyone permission to get up and move around. But you know what she means, and you dutifully buckle up.

Later, as the plane taxis to the gate after landing in Tampa, another flight attendant tells her captive audience that although the flight will continue to Cancun, "Everyone must deplane the aircraft here so the equipment can be serviced."

If the driver of a car were to tell his passengers to "decar the automobile," he would almost certainly get funny looks. But when someone in a uniform delivers double talk about deplaning an aircraft, no one seems to notice.

Airlines are hardly the only guilty parties, of course. For a while, one major hotel chain greeted callers on its toll-free number with a recording that began, "Our reservation lines are momentarily occupied."

Call it "overspeak the corporate tendency to use pretentious, polysyllabic words when simpler ones will do. While taste in other areas has tended to go clean and functional, certain kinds of language have become more rococo, full of frills and unnecessary elaborations.

Think of it as the linguistic equivalent of chrome tail fins on cars. Think of it as putting on airs. Inflated language takes many forms. Several years ago, a car salesman handed me a business card listing his title as "Transportation Expert." Janitors have christened themselves building maintenance engineers, and garbage collectors have metamorphosed into sanitation engineers.

Then there are the flowery names developers invent for middle-class subdivisions to make them sound like home-sweet-home for the landed gentry. From Park Forest Meadows to Carriage Hills Estates, the pseudo-snob appeal escalates.

On one level, this excess verbiage seems comic - a harmless attempt to create an aura of importance or self-importance. …

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