Tuesday, August 06, 2013

I Love Lucy


A beautifully written piece in yesterday morning's Irish Times reminded me how much I loved Lucy over the last two decades.

In the course of my work, I kept an eye on the Financial Times. Heavy stuff. But a paper which, over the years, has had a higher standard of writing than many of its ostensibly literary counterparts. You could lift stuff out of it for a ministerial brief and find yourself an honorary member of Aos Dána before you knew it.

Then there was Lucy. In the middle of all the economic and financial chaos, pseudo-intellectualism and buzzword management, there was a sane world out there somewhere, even if it was only in Lucy's head.

She calmed you down, made you smile, and reminded you what was really important. She was ostensibly writing about management, but it was really a philosophy column to which anyone could relate. She had a lightness of touch and a lurking smile, and, God forbid, she wrote actual English. Real words strung together to actually mean something. And always a new angle to wake you up.

So I plunged into her piece in the paper and I wasn't disappointed. I'd say she was in her alley. The UK Civil Service was banning 30 ugly words, including the horrendous linguistic abuse "going forward". And not before its time.

The accretion of jargon, or lazy shortcut use of language, since I joined the Civil Service, 46 years ago, has been spectacular.

At that time, we were advised to procure a copy of Sir Ernest Gowers' The Complete Plain Words so that we could avoid such pitfalls and do language the honour of retaining its meaning. The book was produced by Her Majesty's Stationery Office and was available, to keep, from our own Registry. It became a constant companion and, along with a good dictionary, has stood me in good stead to this very day.

So, thank you Lucy for keeping me sane, at least in my own estimation.

And I can't blame the Irish Times for what I think is a wee typo in the piece. When I went to the Financial Times original, there is was again. The proof was in the pudding, as they are now wont to say.

Ah well, we can't all be perfect.

1 comment:

Póló said...


In my later years the phrase “going forward” catapults me into a red mist of rage and it's all the fault of one man.

When it was first introduced, it seemed to me to be a useful term. I have a tendency to prolixity and overanalysis and it brought me down to earth with a meaning of “that's all very well, but what are you going to do about it?”.

Then it caught on with the with-it trendies and you were not in the game unless you were “going forward” in some form or fashion.

Then I found it being used against me by an obnoxious person for whom I had a certain professional responsibility. In this context it came to mean “you are an idiot of the old decrepit school. Your knowledge or experience or advice is of no interest or relevance to me. I am a modern management oriented person. I don't need you standing in my way. I am a doer. Now stand aside and let me do this my way”.

The same person was shallow, greedy, impetuous, insecure, and a bully. In spite of my exercising some control over him, he was quick to destroy a heap of goodwill, reputation and political capital which a number of us, and not just the old fogies, had built up over the years. He got under my skin like no one ever did before him or since.

These remarks, of course, are in no way intended to reflect on his professional ability and conduct.