Publication:

The Mail on Sunday - 2021-10-10

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Why everyone’s talking about... Wordsalad

Qatar: The Toxic World Cup

STEVE BENNETT

During party conferences, and whenever Harry and Meghan speak in public, we hear a lot of ‘word salads’ – jumbles of phrases that sound good but don’t mean much. Where does the term come from? Intriguingly, it has medical roots. The American Psychological Association defines word salad as ‘severely disorganised and virtually incomprehensible speech or writing… strongly suggestive of schizophrenia. The person’s associations appear to have little or no logical connection’. But it’s not just a symptom of mental illness – it can also be a deliberate trick to muddy the truth. More recently, word salad has come to mean any vacuous platitudes that say absolutely nothing. That can’t possibly apply to politicians and the Sussexes… Heaven forbid! What could be clearer than a message like: ‘We remain hugely committed to levelling up and will strain every sinew as we redouble our efforts to tackle the challenges we face, to work tirelessly and at pace, and not shy away from tough decisions, for there are no easy answers. The simple truth is we will do the right and responsible thing for hard-working families across this country, and ensure those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden, as that represents the unique values of this great nation.’ Who said that? I made that up, but you get the drift. So, basically it’s politically correct gobbledegook? Yes, even spammers use word salads to fill emails with vaguely plausible text to camouflage phrases that might otherwise trigger filters to keep them from your inbox. Harry and Meghan were accused of spouting a ‘woke word salad’ last year when they launched their Spotify podcast, vowing ‘to bring forward different perspectives and voices… because when that happens change really is possible’. Surely no one’s taken in by this gibberish? In 1996, Professor Alan Sokal submitted a pseudo-scientific word salad to a Left-wing social science journal. It duly published his fake paper claiming science was a ‘social construct’ using jargon about ‘dialectical emphases’ and ‘progressive political praxis’. He later explained: ‘Anyone who believes the laws of physics are mere social conventions is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the windows of my apartment. (I live on the 21st floor.)’

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