NLP – lies, damned PC lies, and sugar-coating the language pill

I have a lot in common with Johannesburg journalist Mandy Collins: not just our activity on Twitter (you can find her on @CollinsMandy, it’s more than worth it), or our interest in health and lifestyle writing. We share a healthy skepticism when it comes to quick fixes. One of those is NLP – neurolinguistic programming. Here, Collins blogs about how it has helped to mangle the way we use language. MS

By Mandy Collins*

NLPI’ve never been a huge fan of neurolinguistic programming (NLP). Apart from the fact that it’s been shown to be pseudoscience, it always felt fake to me, certainly in the form it was preached: standing in front of a mirror and repeating things until you believed them. I’m just too cynical for that.

But the armchair sociolinguist in me suspects that its popularity as an idea has had far-reaching consequences on the way we use language. No-one has problems anymore, only challenges or opportunities. People don’t die , they pass away, pass on, and in a deeply ambiguous phrasing, go home.

Companies restructure, which is just a way of saying a lot of people will be losing their jobs. Others aren’t unemployed, they’re just between jobs. And Gwyneth Paltrow must take the cake, of course, with her “conscious uncoupling” from Chris Martin.

There are places, of course, where these rephrases are positive, I think. I think “sex worker”  is a more honest term than “prostitute”, which comes with all kinds of stigma. I also think “disabled”, instead of words like “crippled”  or “retarded”, has definite benefits.

Mandy Collins
Mandy Collins

But on the whole, what I see is the overt use of language to sanitise unpleasant concepts. Traditionally all languages and cultures use euphemism to discuss taboo subjects: sex and bodily functions come to mind. But I think the combination of NLP and its cousin, political correctness, means we’ve moved far beyond the scope of euphemism.

We’ve taken it one step further: we simply manipulate words in a concerted way – on purpose – until they sound like something that’s excusable, understandable, quite acceptable really. So we didn’t kill innocent civilians in that war we were waging. It was just collateral damage

What amazes me, though, is that we all know it’s bullshit. We know what’s really meant. And yet, so often we just roll our eyes and join in, upholding the status quo. More fake words in a world that seems to celebrate fakeness more and more every day.

I think it’s time to start changing our language – not in an NLP sense, but in the sense of calling a spade a spade. I’m tired of “fake it till you make it”. I’m tired of fake in general. I’m tired of the dishonesty we see in the papers every day, from people at all levels in society.

It’s exhausting.

And I firmly believe that until we begin to be honest in the way we speak – and think – about things, the state of the world will only get worse. Sugar-coating the facts doesn’t change them – it’s just a sophisticated way to lie.

*Mandy Collins is a Johannesburg-based freelance writer and editor, and one-stop writing shop. This blog is reprinted with kind permission and first appeared on her website, mandycollinswriter.com