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The power of the spoken word

by: Romany Howes (8 January 2010)

As adults, we all know how to speak or rather, we have become familiar with our own usage of the English language. We have learned it from an early age, possibly one of the hardest social experiences we are tasked with doing. However, if recent guidelines issued by the Highways Agency to its staff are to be followed, then we should all start again.

Staff at the Highways Agency are now banned from using the word 'motorists' instead, they must refer to 'road users' or 'drivers'. And it gets even better: 'winter maintenance' is a no-no and should from now on be referred to as 'agency winter service'. We cannot contact them during 'off peak hours' any more: rather 'outside of peak hours'.

The guidelines have been received with bemusement by many who seem to think that the current climatic crisis across the UK should be a more pressing priority. Top Gear's James May was amongst those who expressed surprise at the news, saying that it was not the Government's job to tell staff how to speak.

The guidelines also contain sections entitled 'How do we sound human?' and 'How do we sound helpful?' Any suggestions? Purely by coincidence, staff at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency have been told to modify their language also: no more can they use the word 'unfortunately' or the phrases 'I'm afraid' or 'not possible' and under no circumstances should the staple phrase 'I'll just pop you on hold' be utilised. It remains to be seen whether the use of any of these phrases constitutes a sackable offence.

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