Does Anyone Round Here Speak English?
Mar 25, 2014
Whilst surfing the internet the other day I stumbled across a profile for the Chief Executive of an Australian corporate funeral chain.
Apparently, during his time at the company’s helm he “…facilitated the full utilisation of skills ultimately leading to significant stakeholder wealth by leading and implementing ground breaking workplace change in what is an extremely complex environment through effective strategic planning, operational implementation and supportive human resource strategies.”
I’m none the wiser.
Oh, hang on, it doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say that “…at the end of the day, the ultimate key to achieving business goals is ensuring there is appropriate alignment between desired business outcomes and people/business initiatives,” which our man reckons is reached through an “…in-depth understanding of business fundamentals to lead redirection or exit from poor business practices.”
Well, that might be how Australian CEO’s do it, but speaking for myself I like to be proactive not reactive, so what I’m bringing to the table is mission critical. In a world of moving goalposts I’m constantly having to think outside the box, utilising blue-sky thinking techniques to really push the envelope. I can’t do that on my own, because there is no 'I' in team. Instead I gather the knowledge base and core competencies of the stakeholders around me to ensure a win-win situation. This can only be achieved by incentivisation, creation of client focus and ultimately concentrating on deliverables, so that we can take it to the next level… Sort of thing.
Enough already! Let me explain in plain English:
I’m a “funeral director” or an “undertaker” – you choose. My work starts after someone’s “died.” People frequently refer to “passing away,” but where might the dead be passing to? You see, it’s very dangerous for funeral directors to use terms like “passed away,” because families could be really offended if we appear to make a spiritual assumption on their behalf that their deceased relative has “passed” to somewhere. It’s much safer if our language reflects the undeniable reality that someone’s “died.”
Likewise, Doctors & police officers will tell you that deep shock can distort a relative’s ability to assimilate even the most basic information, so it’s absolutely vital that communication is kept simple. “He suffered fatal injuries? Oh thank God for that! I thought for one horrible moment you were going to say he was dead. Phew!”
Sadly, situations like road accidents, murders and suicides create a real verbal minefield. Assumptions must be avoided and terminology chosen very carefully, because of the legal implications. Road traffic accidents are “collisions” and murders start as “suspicious deaths.” Likewise, when encountering situations where someone has “apparently taken their own life,” I never use the word “suicide.” I’m not legally qualified to second-guess the verdict of the coroner’s inquest, especially when the outcome has the potential to interfere with the life insurance claim.
What about referring to the deceased person themselves? Well, “corpses” died out in medieval times and “cadavers” are what medical students play with. “Remains” (shortening of ‘mortal remains’) is an unpleasant term with rather explicit connotations. So basically, it’s always “body,” regardless of condition or level of assembly. Then, when we ask the family whether they’ll want to visit the chapel of rest, it’ll be to “see” their relative, not “view” them. They’re coming to say goodbye, not going house hunting.
You can be cremated, but be honest, doesn’t that sound nicer than being “burnt”? But when folks ask for burial we avoid using the formal word “interment.” People often mistakenly spell it with an extra “N” in the middle and they end up with the same procedure the government used for terrorists in Northern Ireland.
“Floral tribute” is a grim term. Just call them “flowers.” But here’s some useful tips: if you want the natural, flower-arranged look, ask the florist for a “double-ended spray.” Also, when ordering cut flowers it’s much safer to ask for a “tied bunch.” The proper floristry term is “tied sheaf,” but many folks pronounce it as “sheath,” which is more to do with family planning than funeral planning…
Welcome to modern Britain – where plain English has become a second language.
James Baker owns and runs Fred Stevens Funeral Directors of Nailsworth, Glos.