At the End of the Day

George Carlin pointed out sixteen years ago that the way a culture uses words tells you a lot about it. As always, the Greatest 20th Century American was on the money.

In that context, very little explains just how arse about face American English is in 2015 than a new word I discovered today, the Nowcast.

A Nowcast, it seems, is an estimate you put out when a government or central bank forecast is late…or in the eurozone, has disappeared because Mario Dragula doesn’t like the look of it. It’s actually a form of commentary on current affairs, or more narrowly an estimate. But you know, hey – an estimate sounds like, maybe, it could be wrong. So it’s a nowcast now.

It can only be a matter of time before the construction industry starts issuing nowcasts for work it’s about to do. Later – as the price doubles two weeks into the project – it will issue another nowcast, and presumably at that point the former nowcast will become a thencast. So when after two years the price of a hospital has gone from £30m in the first nowcast to £270m on the actual bill, the contractors can say, “Listen, don’t whinge….look back over our thencasts, and you’ll see that our ability to predict the past is second to none”.

For newer readers, I should explain that The Slog was originally an abbreviation of the term bollockslog – that is, a non-stop audit of the unfeasibly infinite amount of bollocks we all have to sit and listen to on an everyday basis. Later my chum and occasional scribbling/jamming partner Jon Allen came up with the site’s war-cry, “IABATO!” – It’s all bollocks and that’s official. It has grown increasingly, clinically correct as the years have passed.

An early symptom was the word ‘space’. Today, it is rapidly replacing sector, niche, market or business as a term. Sadly, this means there is now an advertising space: this can get confusing because advertising media executives sell space and take space. So they’re selling and buying space in the media space within the advertising space, unless of course the media space has been hijacked by the editorial space, in which case they run out of space and the action moves into the auction space, because two client spaces won’t fit into one in the supply-and-demand space, in which case one client loses, goes ballistic, and presumably launches himself into outer space.

But before even this, there was the transmutation of road haulage into ‘logistics’. I have always found the human capacity for pretentious self-inflation hysterically funny, but I think this one still beats most bollocks hands-down. Leaping from the image of half-shaven Scottish blokes – eating deep-fried Mars bars and Yorkies as they thunder lethally from Bearsden to Puerto Banus – into another scenario where ancient Greeks are discussing the relationship between beauty and reality is quite something. But like it or not, back at the end of the last century, some self-important consultant found the North-West passage between physical transport and sublime transportation to come up with ‘logistics’, and the name has stuck.

It suggests, I think, that before KPMG or Deloitte or whoever took out their little kit of slide rules, concentric circles and arrows to come up with Ultimate Truth, all delivery from A to B using trains, planes and automobiles was an anarchy of disastrous mistakes. Bananas destined for Hull went instead to Washington, and coal mined with the Falklands in mind ended up in Newcastle. And this too, of course, is complete bollocks.

Some would say this is merely ‘jargon’, but it isn’t: jargon is stuff that professions use when talking within their space sorry, business. In advertising, we used to have Cost per Thousand (a shorthand for TV ratings delivered by a campaign). In the cotton business, ‘selvidge’ is the border on a roll of cloth. Further upmarket, the legal profession uses sub judice, caveat emptor and inter alia in a vaguely pompous manner. But at no point in this use of jargon is there an attempt to suggest that tying one’s shoelaces is equivalent to the discovery of Einstein’s electromagnetic rope offering instantaneous travel to spinning electrons in Alpha Centauri.

No, this stuff is bollocks: the invention of a word to justify a premium price which is, by and large, unjustifiable.

Those who quantitatively ease do not lighten the burden on the backs of the citizens. Others who suggest bail in as the answer to a bank failure are in no way suggesting they might pitch in and contribute. Bankers insisting on leverage are offering to lend, but not to cough up when it all goes tits-up. British Tory politicians with ‘a long term economic plan’ are doing nothing more than justifying tooth-fairy logic with occasional misinterpreted and/or contrarian data that comes to light from Think Tanks.

Think Tanks: there’s another one. In 2015, you can only think in a tank. If you don’t have a tank in which to think, then you’re out of favour. But on the other hand, somehow you can only think outside the box if you’re in a tank. Sorry, but being in a jeep just doesn’t cut it: jeepers creepers, that ain’t how you get peepers.

It doesn’t matter if the fuel tank is empty: the only things required for the Big Idea are a tank space in which to think, and a box inside that space you can use purely for the purpose of rejecting any and all ideas that emanate from it. Yes, the only ideas worth a dime are those that exist in the space between the box and the tank. If you stick to that, what could possibly go wrong? Sooner rather than later, the breakthrough idea will materialise.

Um, perhaps the fact that ‘breakthrough’ itself means nothing until you have the idea? I once worked for a US Chicago-based agency (I was unwillingly merged into it) that sold itself to clients as offering breakthrough creative. The lack of pronouns there is something to do, I suspect, with the inhuman way in which corporate America thinks. What it really meant was ‘well-branded and engaging advertising ideas the agency’s creative people come up with’. As the agency’s creative department only rarely came up with anything like that, the lachrymose shit they sold to clients was rebranded as breakthrough creative…or BTC

During a seminar to explore the BTC concept, an account director called Mike who shared my compulsion to deconstruct bollocks presented an alternative strategy: the BTL. With a straight face, he presented to the agency’s senior management something which (he claimed) was not to be confused with the BLT – the bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich. The BTL, he insisted, was the Break Through Lunch.

Mike’s BTL was a strategy whereby you took the client to any restaurant with two Michelin stars, filled him up to the brim with fine wine, and then sold him a crock-of-shit commercial. This (Mike argued) was far cheaper than having a creative department full of BTCs whose work the thick-necked client would never buy anyway.

The thin veil Mike had wrapped around his irony just about saved his job, after which he then went on to much greater things. I always looked forward to trips with Mike, because like me he was seditious, and saw the funny side of all things human 24/7. If there are any former BMP/DDB folks reading this post, I’d love to know what happened to him.

Either way, this is the point of tonight’s ramble: those who can, do – and those who can’t talk about doing in a strangulated way that is never going to achieve anything creative, engaging or effective.

People who tell original jokes are funny. Those who explain why they’re funny rarely add to the sum of human understanding. And above all, the invention of new words for old wheels is never inventive.