Words, words, words

There's a particular kind of absurdity that creeps into the language when people are trying to be formal. You notice it a lot in the distortions Don Watson complains of, and if you've spent any time in the public service you'll know immediately the kind of false, convoluted, roundabout rhetoric that passes for intelligent discourse in that culture.

I came across a particularly absurd specimen recently, when I had to call a government phone line. The young person on the other end, clearly aspiring to a tone of formality and dignity, found himself not only subverting good grammar but inventing entirely new words.

He asked me for "the residential address of yourself," which no doubt sounded to him much more impressive, or at least more correct, than "your residential address"; and he promised me he would "make a note that you've callen today," obviously feeling that ordinary past tense ("called") doesn't sound nearly as grand. 

George Orwell complained in 1946 that modern English was afflicted with false limbs, pretentious diction, and meaningless words. It seems the disease he complained of then has continued to grow, even as the resources of the language itself have shrunk. The unabated impulse to sound formal now has fewer words at its disposal, but it wants more than ever to use more words than necessary - even if it has to make them up.