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Modern Manglish: Gobbledygook Made Plain

Modern Manglish: Gobbledygook Made Plain

by Neil James, Harold Scruby, Alan Moir (Illustrator), Caroline Jones (Foreword by)

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In a humorous and thoughtful way, this discussion explores English-language usage, including the traditional linguistic traps of mixed metaphors and mispronunciation, new words and old clichés, euphemisms, tautologies, and jargon. It also exposes the latest blunders in serially offending professions such as politics, business, and law. From sports talk to


In a humorous and thoughtful way, this discussion explores English-language usage, including the traditional linguistic traps of mixed metaphors and mispronunciation, new words and old clichés, euphemisms, tautologies, and jargon. It also exposes the latest blunders in serially offending professions such as politics, business, and law. From sports talk to silly signs and from food speak to fancy-pants job titles, this is the ideal gift for wordsmiths and lovers of word reference books.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“People who love to note misuse of language will adore this book, which analyzes our epidemic of gobbledygook. Ignorance of English usage is one problem, jargon another. Politico-speak gets a thrashing here, as does willful obfuscation. . . . If you love language, this will make you laugh and groan.”  —Sunday Age

“Despite the evidence presented here, do not despair about the state of the language, do not lose hope. For in exposing this language, James and Scruby arm you with the best weapon for fighting back: laughter. So read, laugh, and keep this book close at all times. It’s your survival manual for the language jungle.”  —William Lutz, author, Doublespeak

“If I die laughing, my family will sue the authors.”  —Phillip Adams, columnist, Australian

Product Details

Scribe Publications Party Limited
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Modern Manglish: Gobbledygook Made Plain

By Neil James, Harold Scruby, Alan Moir

Scribe Publications Pty Ltd

Copyright © 2011 Neil James, Harold Scruby, and Alan Moir
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-921942-31-0



Unremarkably, languages grow or die. To keep them relevant and effective, we are constantly coining new terms for new concepts, changing the meanings of words, and altering the way in which others function. Think for a moment about the evolving application of the word 'gay':

Boys and girls come out to play, happy and gay the Laxette way.

Laugh, Kookaburra; laugh, Kookaburra; gay your life must be.

The children and the kookaburra in these ditties were initially simple, joyous, and cheerful beings, until the shifting meaning of 'gay' gave them a sexual preference. And now we are even turning them into something uncool. When a certain politician tried to lecture his daughter about drugs, she told him not to be such a 'lame, gay, churchy loser'.

At times, these changes in meaning introduce negative connotations. Being 'sinister' used to mean simply left-handed, while 'sly' originally meant clever. 'Awful' once only inspired awe rather than being terrible, something 'artificial' had true artistic value, and even a 'pirate' was originally a small (not necessarily in stature) businessman. The process can also happen in reverse: something 'terrific' used to cause genuine terror, a 'brave' person was actually uncivilised, and being 'nice' meant that you were ignorant.

The great democratic glory of English is that the broader community ends up deciding if particular words will change their meaning. But if we want that democracy to function well, it shouldn't mean that anything goes.

There is a line not to cross. Stepping over that line leads to Manglish.


Manglish begins when we deliberately set out to give words new meanings in order to make them fancier, soften a harsher reality, or paper over something unpleasant. This is the Manglish of doublespeak. Here are some examples:

Aspirational time horizon


Career transition program


Civilian irregular defence staff


Collateral damage

Dead civilians

Delivery commitment


Deployment of forces



Cut out the middle man



Gratuity payment


Handyman's dream

Run-down house

Investment in human capital


Job flexibility

Casual employment

Legacy asset

Toxic debt

Liquidity backstop

Government bailout

Preventative detention

Imprisonment without trial

Public diplomacy




Removal pathway


Strategic staircase


The rich seam of doublespeak runs so abundantly through the strata of Manglish — from euphemisms and suitspeak to mission statements and fancy-pants job titles — that we'll be mining it further in several dedicated chapters.


While we remain on guard against the latest doublespeak, there is another process to watch out for: verbing. This coinage takes a perfectly good noun and turns it, unnecessarily, into a verb.

Sports commentators and journalists are very good at this process, probably because they desperately try to think of new ways to describe what are essentially the same actions. An Australian newspaper recently decided to accept 'medal' as a verb:

Anton Ohno can become the most medalled American Winter Olympian in the 1000m.

Perhaps it was following the lead of the UK Olympic team:

The team includes athletes who have medalled at Olympic, World, and European level, so this is an exciting proposition for the Games.

But it took swimming and skiing commentators to come up with these:

She hasn't won an event this season, but has podiumed a couple of times.

Her form has been so good, I'm sure that she'll podium tonight. Remember that she silvered in Athens.

Of course, some of these new verbal coinages catch on. For instance, 'texting' has become useful to describe sending an instant message by mobile phone. In this case, 'text' already had some history as a verb. In the 16th century, it meant 'to cite text' or 'to write text in-hand'. Those uses became rare or obsolete, so 'text' humbly reverted to a noun. Now 'texting' with a mobile phone simply resurrects the verb form in a new context.

'Medalling' may already be a lost cause, but it's hard to see 'podiuming' taking on. And there are others that we should resist:

To antique ('We went antiquing on the weekend.')

To auralise ('He couldn't auralise the instruments.')

To best ('I bested him at squash.')

To boomerang ('The plan boomeranged on us.')

To bottom-line ('He did not bottom-line the budget.')

To ceiling ('The prices ceilinged around June.')

To contemporise ('Let's contemporise these events.')

To contracept ('He had no idea of contracepting.')

To diagram ('Can you diagram that idea for me?')

To diarise ('I forgot to diarise the appointment!')

To dollarise ('If I could dollarise the project ...')

To expense ('We can expense this lunch.')

To gift ('Gran gifted me more socks.')

To green-light ('Let's green-light this proposal.')

To grow ('We are growing the business.')

To guest ('I'm guesting on that program again.')

To harsh ('Stop harshing all my ideas.')

To incentivate ('We'll incentivate our employees.')

To incentivise ('Cash bonuses incentivise workers.')

To keyboard ('Can you keyboard this for me?')

To offline ('We should offline this discussion.')

To schematise ('Scientists schematised the various experiments.')

To springboard ('That springboarded my career.')

To strategise ('Let's strategise our solution to this problem.')

To synergise ('We'll synergise our processes.')

To tenant ('We've tenanted the place for six months.')

To value-add ('The new version doesn't value-add existing products.')

To verbal ('Police verballed him.')

To verbalise ('Make sure you verbalise your issues.')

To verse ('Who are you versing this weekend?')

To vocalise ('I want you to vocalise your concerns.')

To waste ('He was accused of wasting a gang member.')



Tautologies are the greatest breeding ground for Manglish. It is here that politicians and priests, sports commentators and corporate leaders, all sink proudly into the mire, blissfully unaware of their excesses. Indeed, so great is their hubris that they are not averse to repeating their errors in the belief that rep-etition can only reinforce their words.

Probably the best example is those who leave their phones permanently on voicemail with the message: 'I'm currently unavailable at the moment. I'm either on the phone, away from my desk, or busy defying gravity.' Who cares? And why do they compound a tautology with such superfluous nonsense? We know that they are unavailable because they didn't answer.

A tautology, needless to say, is the repetition of an idea or a statement using other words. For example:

He did a lot of running with his legs today.

Not that it got him very far:

He's missed two caught and bowled opportunities – both off his own bowling.

And who was he, anyway?

If I keep getting Boyd and O'Grady mixed up it's because they look so alike, particularly around the head.

And here is a mind-boggling fact from another sports commentator:

The stadium is close to capacity – as far as full is concerned.

But there is nothing like a positive outlook, and here sports commentators seem to excel:

A boxer makes a comeback for one of two reasons: either he's broke or he needs the money.

Here he is. Yesterday's winner. The man who won yesterday.

If we were talking positively, I can't see no reason why Christie can't get a medal.

I'm going to make a prediction – it could go either way.

I really expect it to go one way or the other tonight.

Of course, one of [snooker player] Stephen Hendry's greatest assets is his ability to score when he's playing.

Or simply:

It was a goal of really simple simplicity.

And seen from the competitor's view:

I hope to come first or second, or at least win it.

Then there was the sprinter who told us:

My personal best time was better than my best.

And one final word from our competitors:

We're very pleased about the way we played because we know we can play like that.

Right. The Manglish of sport is so highly developed that we'll be giving it a whole chapter later on. For now, we can get away from sport to some examples we found from other fields, such as this:

London isn't the largest city, but it's definitely larger than the next largest.

And what is the best way to appreciate this vast metropolis?

You only have to fly over it or go in a helicopter.

We heard an earnest young graduate say in a meeting:

We need to prevent this happening again at some point of time in the future.

And from a Sydney meteorologist:

It's been raining for eight consecutive days in a row.

One famous political leader announced after an election:

We didn't win, but we didn't lose.

And another well-known politician who had an unenviable reputation for tautologies came up with the following:

It's all summed up in the crux of one situation.

Queensland is not prepared to put its feet on the sticking paper and be stuck with it.

We stick like glue and we work like glue.

We won't be able to sit on uranium. Firstly because it would not be right, and secondly because it would be wrong.

Other utterances of the great man included:

We have to get the status quo back to what it was before.

The secret of my success is that I don't beat around the bush and say exactly what I mean.

But perhaps one of the most frequent and unconscious tautologies of all is the phrase 'I'm going to go.'

There are many other tautologies, admittedly less spectacular, which have found a permanent home in our language. The following are just some of the tautologies that are daily occurrences. Believe us.

ABN number

Actual thing itself

Added bonus

And, etc.

Annual AGM

Around about

As near as near

ATM machine

Back back straight into another car

The bargain basement downstairs

Circle around the block

Collaborate together

Come back again

The current climate at the moment

Debate about

Different varieties

Each of you individually

An essential prerequisite

Exactly the same thing

The extra thing I have added is

Family heirloom

FBT tax

Filthy dirty pig

Final upshot

Finally finished

Forward progress

Free gifts

Further additions

Future prospects

Grateful thanks

Greetings and salutations

Human-made synthetic

I have experienced this before

I'll just clean up the mess

In a row one after another

Internationally around the world

It gave me some bad adverse effects

It's re-echoed

It was cut into two halves

I used to do that before

Join together in unison

Kills flies and cockies dead

Last will and testament

Letter in writing

Lob the ball high up into the air

Male bachelor

Male penis

Meaningless mission statement

Mix together

My ancestors were original First Fleeters

My own car

Nationally around the country

Never once

New novelty

Null and void

Old, outdated material

One and the same

The other alternative

Overseas imports

Past experience

Past history

PIN number

Pregnant with child

A preliminary preamble




Raging out of control

Reason why

Recall back

Reduce down

Reiterate again

Repay back

Repeat again

Restate again

Returning for a comeback

Reverse backwards

Right now

Round about

Rural and regional

SMS message

So incredible I could scarcely believe it

Stupid idiot

Sufficient enough

The sum total

Tediously boring

There's no need for undue worry

Toxic poisons

A true fact

Two twins

Unique, never-to-be-repeated offer

Vacuous vision statement

Very true

Watch the vision

When I first founded the company

Wholly new innovation

4.00 a.m. in the morning

6.00 p.m. in the evening



A cliché is an expression so worn out that it offers almost no meaning. It is a regular favourite of all Manglish speakers because it saves time and effort. While there is probably nothing wrong with an occasional cliché, overuse means that we end up letting our clichés do our thinking for us. As George Orwell observed, we assemble a sentence much like a prefabricated henhouse.

Politicians are particularly adept at verbal henhouses. They learn early that clichés give the appearance of saying something without committing to anything:

I believe that the government had lost its way, and I intend to have a conversation with the Australian people so that we can canvass the best ways to move forward and all work together in the national interest.

This all sounds positive enough. But what will it actually deliver?

Perhaps the worst crime of the cliché is that it is oh-so-predictable and oh-so-boring. Admittedly, it is hard to come up with fresh phrases and images every day. So the cliché waits eagerly for its opportunity to leap onto the page.

Cliché One: the overworked phrase

The first category of cliché is the easiest to turn to when you must say something but have nothing to offer. Just add conjunctions.

All things being equal

Best thing since sliced bread

Better late than never

Boys will be boys

Burn the midnight oil

Conspicuous by one's absence

Dose of your own medicine

Easier said than done

Going around in circles

Heart of gold

I'd give my right arm

Just like Mother used to make

Keep your shirt on

Last but not least

Lay down the law

Let's get the show on the road

Life wasn't meant to be easy

Moment you've been waiting for

More than meets the eye

No rest for the wicked

Off the beaten track

Out of sight, out of mind

Point of no return

Powers that be

Put your money where your mouth is

Road to perdition

Second to none

See light at the end of the tunnel

Short and sweet

Shoulder to cry on

Show must go on

Sight for sore eyes

Slave over a hot stove

Through thick and thin

To cut a long story short

Too good to be true

Two's company, three's a crowd

Water under the bridge

With all due respect

You can't win 'em all

You took the words right out of my mouth

Cliché Two: the threadbare quotation

While overused phrases can 'slip under your radar', the threadbare quotation is easier to detect. Users of these clichés are often convinced that they are displaying great erudition by quoting from fable and folklore, from biblical and literary genius.

All's fair in love and war

All things must pass

An apple a day keeps the doctor away

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

Blood is thicker than water

Blood, sweat, and tears

Cast pearls before swine

Don't count your chickens before they hatch

The early bird catches the worm

A fool and his money are soon parted

A friend in need is a friend indeed

The fruits of one's labours

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned

Hope springs eternal

Labour of love

Land of milk and honey

Lend me your ears

Like two ships passing in the night

Milk of human kindness

More sinned against than sinning

Necessity is the mother of invention

Neither a borrower nor a lender be

No man is an island

Not with a bang but a whimper

A picture paints a thousand words

A pound of flesh

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Still waters run deep

Survival of the fittest

There, but for the grace of God, go I

Time heals all wounds

To thine own self be true

Truth is stranger than fiction

The tyranny of distance

When in Rome, do as the Romans do

Without further ado

Worth one's weight in gold

Cliché Three: the frayed figure of speech

Our final category of cliché compares something with an example, mostly via the verb 'to be' or a linking word such as 'like' or 'as'. Whenever someone coins a fresh simile or metaphor, we all leap on it until it gets old and stale. The worst examples hang around like a bad smell, much as limpets cling to a rock:

It's a dog's life

It's a small world

Lap of luxury

Life and soul of the party

Life is just a bowl of cherries

Life's a bitch, and then you die

Like a bat out of hell

Load off my mind

Make a mountain out of a molehill

More than one way to skin a cat

My heart bleeds for you

The name of the game

Once in a blue moon

Par for the course

Pillar of society

Plenty more fish in the sea

Quick as a wink

Seize the bull by the horns

A shot in the dark

Skating on thin ice

The sky is the limit

Snake in the grass

Snug as a bug in a rug

Strike while the iron is hot

Thick as thieves

The tip of the iceberg

Tower of strength

Turning in her/his grave

Ugly as sin

Until hell freezes over

Until the cows come home

Warm the cockles of your heart

A whole new ball game

Work one's fingers to the bone


Excerpted from Modern Manglish: Gobbledygook Made Plain by Neil James, Harold Scruby, Alan Moir. Copyright © 2011 Neil James, Harold Scruby, and Alan Moir. Excerpted by permission of Scribe Publications Pty Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Neil James is the chair of the International Plain Language Working Group and the author of three books, including Writing at Work. Harold Scruby is the author of Manglish and Waynespeak. Alan Moir is the editorial cartoonist for the Sydney Morning Herald and a former editorial cartoonist for the Bulletin and Brisbane’s Courier-Mail. He is the recipient of two Walkley Awards for Excellence in Journalism and six Stanley Awards for Editorial Cartoonist of the Year. He is the illustrator of Are We Nearly There Yet? Caroline Jones is a journalist and the author of Through a Glass Darkly.

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