Features

Check yourself: have you succumbed to this corporate speak epidemic?

10 January 2015

9:00 AM

10 January 2015

9:00 AM

You know how it goes with corporate speak. A strange new habit grows and spreads, creeping largely unnoticed into the language, until one day you hear a sentence so bizarre, so divorced from normality, that it brings you up short. It happened to me the other day. A call centre operative, in the middle of a prolonged display of not being able to help, had to check something with a colleague. Before doing so she said: ‘Would it be OK if I put yourself on hold?’

Just stop and consider that sentence for a moment. ‘Would it be OK if I put yourself on hold?’ The woman who uttered it was once, I’m sure, a normal little girl, learning to speak. She would have got things wrong in the endearing way all toddlers do: ‘goed’ instead of ‘went’, ‘embeloke’ instead of ‘envelope’ and so on. But I bet she never once, in the furthest extremities of surreality that such mistakes can explore, uttered a sentence as absurd as ‘Would it be OK if I put yourself on hold?’

Call centre staff only have themselves to blame. (Note correct use of a ‘self’ word there.) They start saying these things in a desperate attempt to hide their ineptitude. ‘If I throw in some extra words,’ goes the thinking, ‘and use posh-sounding phrases instead of simple ones, this poor sap on the other end of the line might not notice that I am, in fact, about as much use as John Bercow in a basketball team.’ Lawyers have been doing this for centuries, with their heretofores and parties of the first part. But at least they get it right. Call centre staff don’t. They end up making mistakes like ‘yourself’ when they actually mean ‘you’.


It’s similar to the ‘…and I’ problem. This is currently approaching epidemic level. People say ‘…and I’ when they mean ‘…and me’. Even David Mellor has succumbed. In the middle of his taxi rant he told the driver to ‘listen to Ken and I tomorrow, you’re going to get a fucking bucketful’. The offensive bit of that sentence is not the final phrase (rather stylish, I thought), but the opening one. It should be ‘listen to Ken and me’. A lesson to us all there — if David Mellor can get it wrong, anyone can. He is, after all, a QC, an ex-cabinet minister and an award-winning broadcaster.

The problem with language inflation is that the market soon discounts any change. To stay ahead of the pack, to keep customers from noticing their failings, phone gimps must constantly up the ante. The ‘one syllable bad, two syllables good’ tactic inevitably leads to ‘three syllables even better’. ‘You’ has been replaced by ‘yourself’ — soon it’ll be ‘yourselfage’. ‘We did try to contact yourselfage …’. How can we stop them? Possibly by echoing the word back to them, pointing out how ridiculous it sounds. Stevie Wonder, we might quietly say as their computer checks whether we’ve given the correct date of birth, never wrote ‘Yourself is the Sunshine of My Life’. There is no James Bond movie, we could add, with the title Yourself Only Lives Twice.

Or we could counter by applying the same logic to our own side of the conversation. ‘Could myself request the balance of the account?’ we’ll ask. ‘Myself needs to make a withdrawal.’ But phone gimps won’t get the joke. It’s a condition of the job that they have their irony glands removed. So instead of seeing how wrong they are, they’ll assume that ‘myself’ is correct. They’ll start using it themselves (again, note correct use). Soon the day will arrive when someone asks: ‘Would it be OK if myself puts yourself on hold?’

No, I’m afraid this traffic only heads one way. Once you’ve started talking like this you can never stop. Phone gimps’ figures of speech are going to get more and more unnatural, until it will only be other phone gimps who can understand them. Like the inhabitants of a remote and frightening island, they will plough the furrow of inbreeding to its horrible conclusion. They will marry each other in ceremonies with specially trained vicars asking ‘Does yourself take this woman…?’, before pronouncing ‘Yourself may now kiss the bride.’ The first dance at their wedding reception will be to Bryan Adams’s ‘Every-thing I Do I Do For Yourself’. And then, alone in their hotel suite, at the most intimate moment of the most intimate act of their first night together as man and wife, male gimp will put his mouth next to female gimp’s ear and he will whisper those three magical words: ‘I love yourself.’

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Show comments
  • Sean Grainger

    Why do you have two headlines on pieces? It is very annoying and seemingly purposeless.

  • davidofkent

    People use the sort of phrase we read about above because they haven’t the foggiest idea about English grammar. Television doesn’t help much with this when we have the Coronation Street type of Northerners with their mangled verb constructions. In truth, they are not Northern constructions; they are merely evidence of a lack of learning.

    • post_x_it

      I’ve always thought it curious that Northerners say “I were”, and Cockneys say “we was”.
      Can’t they just do a swap?

      • Kennie

        Were I a Northerner, I wouldn’t say “was we”.
        ‘ow about yersin?

  • Pufferfish

    A lot of people use ‘myself ‘instead of me, as in ‘Myself and Albert went to the pub’. Best advice for correct use of I, me, myself is to remove the other person and see if it is what you would say. Even David Mellor is unlikely to say ‘Listen to I tomorrow…’

    • not my real name

      Confusion is also cleared up by the provision (rather than the silent assumption) of the verb ‘to be’. Someone in these comment sections told me that my pronoun choice was wrong. When I added the word ‘am’, which followed logically, it was clear that I was right.

  • HJ777

    I abhor ‘corporate speak’.

    However this is not an example of corporate speak. It is just an example of a not terribly bright person thinking that it sounds more sophisticated to say ‘yourself’.

    I knew a colleague back in the 80s who spoke like this to customers to my great amusement. Nobody else did.

    • Zanderz

      Yes, it’s not corporate speak, just the product of a bad education. I’m almost surrounded by people who see nothing wrong in saying ‘… and me are …’ rather than ‘… and I are …’.

      Schools and other adults aren’t interested in teaching correct grammar, so it’s no wonder children grow up thinking ‘Myself is going to arksck yours to town’ is acceptable.

      • Guest

        Wow. Did you read that out loud before you posted it? Did your monocle not pop out at your sheer absurd snobbery?

    • John Lea

      Easily amused.

  • Herman_U_Tick

    It is done because to address someone as “you” seems
    too direct to many people.

    Hence “your Honour” and “your Highness” etc.

    I would welcome a polite, formal equivalent to apostrophised “you”,
    but in spite of all the fanfare we get each year about “new words”,
    I doubt if anything elegant and widely accepted will come along.

    It is the same regarding a singular pronoun that could mean
    “he” or “she”; lexical words enjoy (suffer?) high turnover but
    a handy structural word seldom arrives when you need one.

    • not my real name

      The forms of address have nothing to do with directness, they have to do with respect. Since when did ‘you’ need a euphemism?

    • post_x_it

      So, you want an English equivalent of the French “vous” or the German “sie”?

      • Hamburger

        You are mistaken, you is the polite vous or sie version. The intimate version is, or rather was, thee.

  • not my real name

    Um, shouldn’t that be Stevie Wonder’s “Yourself Are The Sunshine of Myself Life”? Now that’s unintelligible. Back to call-centre school, Mark!

  • Sean L

    This is idiotic. “Yourself” is merely a misconstrued courtesy, as stark “you” might appear too direct and familiar, as Herman says below. How many letters to Mary have I read complaining about such people using one’s Christian name and generally being too familiar? A poorly educated person on minimum wage, a bit nervous, conscious that her call is being recorded, just trying too hard. Nothing to do with “corporate speak”, whatever that means. It’s unbecoming to call these people on such fine points of language, like being rude to a waiter. I mean do you similarly correct your waiter or checkout girl’s grammar? Pathetic.

    • David S

      Could also be a regional dialect. Mr Mason needs to drive change by moving his offer into the trending space.

  • Ivan Ewan

    We need to proactively utilise synergy throughout the production pipeline to optimally explore our market potential.

    THAT is corporate-speak.

    • Kennie

      Or, in English:
      “If you really want a wage rise, you need to get production raised and then get them sold.

  • mrsjosephinehydehartley

    I wonder if it comes from that old-fashioned term ie ” your good self”? Eg

    “Would it be ok if I put your good self on hold?” Seems quite correct.It would be an appeal for one to be so kind as to be patient, at no extra cost to the firm supposed to be providing some service, in fact I think.

  • hdb

    If I am not very much mistaken this use of ‘yourself’ is quite common in Ireland. I shall get out my ‘Irish RM’ DVDs this evening and see if I can spot a few examples …

  • Leftwich

    The superfluous use of “today” boils my tatties. “Would you like cashback today?”. “We will be serving hot beverages on this flight today”. Gnnnnn

    • David Taylor

      Speaking of flights, they always say “at this time” instead of simply “now”.

  • madnessofcrowds

    When did “in the future” become “going forward”? I have not heard a BBC or government spokesman use the words ‘in the future’ for the last 5 years. Who dictates these absurd PC speechisms?

  • Teacher

    And on the subject, ‘Can I get a coffee?’ Get? Grrr!

    • Kennie

      I am always tempted to respond:
      “No sir/Ma’am, you stay there, I will get one for you”

  • andylowings

    It’s neither corporate speak nor bad education, but the result of the English language not having a formal and polite grammar form for “you”, when the telecompany wants to use such a form.

    The use of YOU, and ME and I are hugely fraught with social and communicative issues… to do with class, status and formality.

    “Let us you and I do this” conveys a different thing to ” Lets you and me do it”.

    It’s a valiant try Mr Mason by them and thou soulds’t try to understand its cause.

  • David Taylor

    It isn’t to do with corporate speak. It started with people putting themselves first, as in “Me and John went to the pub”. Perhaps this is a reflection of the self-obsessed nature of people today. Then, rather than correcting this to “John and I”, they think it sounds more educated if they say “Myself and John”. To my mind, this makes it even worse, since it’s drawing attention to the error.

    So “Would it be OK if I put yourself on hold?” is just another example of the same thing. The speaker thinks they sound more educated, ironically.

  • John O’Sullivan

    “Yourself” has been used extensively as an object pronoun in Ireland for generations, and can therefore be classed as part of the Hiberno-English dialect. Its use can have a softening effect on requests (eg “Could I ask ‘yourself’ to help me carry these boxes?”) Admittedly it sounds better with an Irish brogue, but is not really wrong or pretentious in anyway.
    The English language is constantly changing – as you know yourself Mark!

  • Medici1

    They should keep themselves to themselves.

  • evad666

    Sir, looking forward and ensuring due to current demographics can we please confirm that this is an officially sanctioned form of address suitable for a dhimmie?

  • Kennie

    With such a lazy and debased level of education in today’s schools and elsewhere, the country ‘itself’ is fucked.

  • Tony Bannister

    The article’s a bit rough (to the point of snobbishness) on call-centre workers, who often have to talk a certain way or face questions from a supervisor. Criticising them for the way they talk is snooty, like being rude to a waiter or a flight attendant, whose job requires them to deport in a certain way.

  • Glisten

    So “yourself” is somehow offensive, but “phone gimp” isn’t? What a cunt.

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