The random public sector buzz-word generator has been at work again, this time supporting the conference industry. I am invited to a conference that is entitled \’The Next Steps in Localising Communities: Localising Power, Empowering Citizens and Building Communities\’
This babbling brook of gibberish is actually quite impressive in that it manages to combine New Labour\’s vacuous \’communities\’ rhetoric with the Coalition\’s equally inchoate commitment to \’localism\’. A genuinely historic alignment.
It is also, at heart, almost entirely meaningless: how on earth does one localise a community? The words could be re-arranged at will – like a syntactical anagram – to make no more or less sense. \’Building the Locale: Empowering Communities, Localising Citizens and Localising Power\’, anyone? It makes no more sense and no less.
\’Redact\’ is one of those ugly words (like \’resile\’) that seems to have insinuated itself into everyday speech without anyone noticing, let alone objecting.
Since 2005, redaction has been used in the public sector to describe the act of obliterating any interesting, sorry I mean \’sensitive\’, information in response to Freedom of Information requests, usually by use of a black marker pen. It was the publication of MPs\’ expenses (or rather the publication of Mondrian-esque blocks of black ink) that allowed the word to break out of its status as a piece of public sector jargon, and enter the real world.
The dictionary (Chambers 21st Century) defines \’redact\’ as \’to edit; to put (text) into the appropriate literary form\’, and traces its use back to the Latin redigere – to bring back. It is an irony worthy of Orwell that a word associated with tidying up for publication is now used to signify censorship and the suppression of information.
It\’s the small words that are the most difficult.
I\’ve been slightly eccentrically mulling over the meaning of the word \’so\’ for the past few days. It seems capable of meaning almost anything. Dictionary.com gives more than 30 possible uses from adverbial uses indicating extent or manner (\”so cold\”, \”do it so\”), to use as a conjunction signifying intent or result (\”he seemed to be successful, and so he was\”), to a pronoun indicating proximity (\”nine or so\”).
The most common meaning in every day speech is perhaps least explored: \”so, I was walking down the street\”, \”so, how are you?\”, \”so, what next?\” Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary explores this more colloquial use, suggesting that \’so\’ can begin a sentence:
1. to indicate a connection it with something that has been said or has happened previously;
2. as a way of making certain that you or someone else understand something correctly;
3. to refer to a discovery that you have just made;
4. as a brief pause (sometimes to emphasize what you are saying);
5. before you introduce a subject of conversation that is of present interest; or
6. to show that you agree with something that someone has just said, but you do not think that it is important.
That seems to cover most possible sentences and conversations. French and Spanish seem to have similar words (\”alors\” and \”pues\” respectively), heard constantly in everyday talk. These correspond to some meanings of \”so\”, but the correspondence is only exact in its inexactitude. To a certain extent, whatever they mean, these words are just used as punctuation, to fill space as sentiments and sentences are formulated – what a relative of mine use to call \”sloppy speech\”.
But there\’s something more. Life may just be, to use Arnold Toynbee\’s phrase, \”one damn thing after another\”, but we crave connection, some sort of narrative thread. By scattering \’so\’ through our sentences, we create create connections in our conversations, and form at least the illusion of such a narrative.