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by Robin Guard


Language is a wonderfully flexible tool, which may be used to inform and inspire. Increasingly it is used to mislead. Many interests seek to make statements which, while not exactly stating that black is white, at least strongly suggest that it is not as dark as you may have imagined. The military have always been good at this, representing a stand-off as a famous victory, and a total rout as withdrawing to prepared positions.

The practitioners of this art are hired from the ranks of English majors. The best of them go on to take their Masters (in the Art of Deception), and the very best become Ph.D’s which are addressed as 'spin doctors'. President Clinton was going down badly in the polls until he hired a spin doctor. The President continued to drop clangers, but the way they were explained was adjusted, and his popularity shot up.

Creative writing has its positive side. When we are travelling and drop into the local family restaurant for a burger, we know that they will fry up a frozen patty for us and lather it with barbecue sauce from a bottle. But what the lavishly printed menu will say is "Tender flakes of corn-fed beef grilled to perfection, delicately enhanced with a sauce which has been kept secret by our family since Grandmother..." and so on for several paragraphs. And what’s wrong with using the imagination? They say that the pleasure of sex is 95% above the neck... It’s all in the mind.

You can have a lot of fun interpreting the words and phrases used by industry into what they really mean. Here, in alphabetical order, are a few of my favorites. Please share some of yours with the editor.


BEST BEFORE... Pretty old already, but will finally expire on the date shown.


COMPLETE FERTILIZER... Contains three of the forty or so chemical elements found in healthy plants.


CONTROL... To destroy by poisoning, as in "Windocil controls squinchbugs in rutabagas" (Cf. the 400 synthetic substances listed in the Weed Control Handbook put out by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture & Food.)


COUNTRY STYLE... Extra bran added to make it chewier.


FARM FRESH... Manufactured in huge quantities in our central processing plant from the cheapest ingredients obtainable worldwide.


GUARANTEED FOR LIFE... When the thing breaks down, it has come to the end of its life, and the guarantee expires.


LEVEL PLAYING FIELD... Business term used by big guys when they want to remove any competitive advantage held by a little guy. Example: our local village grocery went bankrupt this spring, and our friends lost their life savings. Reason was that the local supermarket said they were losing 1 per cent of their business to the corner stores who were allowed to open Sundays. So the government, always the champion of fairness, made it a Level Playing Field by letting everybody open Sundays.


LIGHT... (or "Lite") Watered down.


LOW CAL... See "Light".


NATURAL... This one is a doozy. The folks who are working on giving the word organic a legal definition also considered the word natural, but soon gave it up as impossible to pin down. So it is now a word that can be, and is, used by everyone. Bags of refined white sugar, subject of many a dentist’s nightmares, are now marked "a natural product". (To be fair to the simple souls who write this labelling, they probably mean that it is one of the very few products on the supermarket shelves which has not had synthetic additives put into it).


MAY...Laws about truth in advertising and public liability have caused the little word may to appear on most drug store remedies. Understandably governments have become nervous of the enthusiasms of practitioners like Nicholas Culpeper who, in the heady 1640’s, would come out with claims like "Parsley is a goodlye herbe, curing all manner of ailments such as gout, dropsy, compound fractures and fluxes of women." Legislation now requires that the medication you buy will say something like "Garbogene MAY relieve the symptoms of itching in mild cases of bumping into furniture. Not to be used on horses."


OLDE WORLDE FLAVOR... Molasses added.



Copyright 1993. Mary Perlmutter

Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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