Part diatribe, part cool reflection on the state of Australia s public language, Don Watson s Death Sentence is scathing, funny and brilliant.
Don Watson's Recollections of a Bleeding Heart: Paul Keating Prime Minister, won the Age Book of the Year and Non-Fiction Prizes, the Brisbane Courier Mail Book of the Year, the National Biography Award and the Australian Literary Studies Association's Book of the Year. His Quarterly Essay, Rabbit Syndrome: Australia and America won the Alfred Deakin Essay Prize. Death Sentence, his best-selling book about the decay of public language won the Australian Booksellers Association Book of the Year 2003. Watson's Dictionary of Weasel Words, another best-seller, was published in 2004. His most recent book American Journeys won the Age Non-Fiction and Book of the Year Awards in 2008. It also won the inaugural Indie Award for Non-Fiction and has been shortlisted for the Walkley Award for Non-Fiction.
Death Sentence explains how the language of managerialism and marketing has invaded public life, giving examples from government, universities, schools and journalism. It’s bad enough the language of bureaucracy has been desiccated by this process; so much worse that the language of universities and the media, where critical and independent thought ought to be articulating itself in strong, true, even unique language, has been corrupted by the same process. Having always wondered what on earth ‘mission statements’ were for, I was delighted to read Watson denouncing them, and showing how one statement could be applied equally well to a hamburger franchise, a supermarket or a government department. This is a fast-paced, entertaining, enlightening read, with a hilarious glossary at the end. Watson’s main point is that democracy depends on common understanding, and therefore on plain language. As I read, I wanted to send this book to every member of parliament, every public servant, every university administrator, every marketing school. But it’s likely that Death Sentence will find its readership among people who are already interested in language and how it works, rather than in those who would benefit most from its lucid account of what is wrong with public language, and what we could do to fix it. Mary Ellen Jordan is a freelance writer. C. 2003 Thorpe-Bowker and contributors