Here in the UK, TK Max proudly announced in its stores “Always up to 90% off”. Wow! That sounds great doesn’t it? But what does it mean?
Let’s explore the logic.
“Always up to” practically means “never more than”. They are guaranteeing that they will never discount by more than 89.99999%.
So, a 5% discount would fit their claim. After all, that is not more than 90% off.
A 1% discount would also fit the bill quite nicely. It is arguable if a zero % discount would, however, because you would have to consider if the original statement promised a reduction in all circumstances.
Anyway, I have no particular reason to pick a fight with TK Max, apart from disliking stores that resemble jumble sales – remember those? People crammed into church or school halls, rummaging about on trestle tables piled high with other folks’ cast-offs in search of something for their own kids to wear or play with. It was like a sort of communal boot sale with the profits going to some charity or other. They had a distinctive odour about them but most of them held the odd hidden gem. They even became quite trendy until the vintage vendors started buying up all the half-way decent stock.
But I digress, as usual.
Empty vessels make the most noise but the same goes for empty messages
TK Max are by no means alone when it comes to empty messages.
A fairly recent BBC news item, reporting on one of the UK Government’s seemingly unfathomable distraction announcements concerning air bridges, or some such twaddle, said that we Brits would shortly be able to travel to “up to 70” overseas countries and return without having to go through a quarantine process. Again, we have the same problem. If just one such arrangement was put in place, the announcement would be satisfied; yet it created a huge expectation. In the event, the whole shebang was such a monumental cock-up, you could drive a coach and horses through it. Of course, on reflection, I’m not sure coaches and horses are covered in the regulations, or instructions, or guidance issued by the government (whatever each of those particular terms mean).
Why do we use language in such a sloppy manner?
Maybe just because it is sloppy. It lacks definition, it is deliberately ambiguous. Or am I being too cynical?
No, I’m not.
These terms are coined by those who know how to turn a phrase, how to make things sound like what they want them to seem, rather than what they actually are.
It really should be the job of our news media to act as some kind of gatekeeper, to weed out the propagandists, the politicians, the obfuscators, and to point out to those of us who may be swayed by this false rhetoric, that all is not necessarily what it seems. It is what a professional newshound or information provider should be doing as a matter of course.
It starts with the small things because this is where we set the tone.
When did Regularly start to mean the same as Frequently?
When the Government advises/instructs us to wash our hands regularly, does it mean that?
If so, how regularly? at what intervals?
Would washing one’s hands once a month, like clockwork, satisfy their demand for regular cleanliness?
Or perhaps they mean frequently?
Again, if they mean frequently, how bloody frequently? The Government really can’t have it both ways. If they are going to tell us what to do, they need to have thought it through and be prepared to offer specific guidance.
When the tax man asks you to report how much money you made in a particular tax year, maybe you should reply ” not very much” and see where that gets you! Unless you are of course in a privileged position when you can claim that most of your income was spent on haircuts or was “earned” in some dodgy off-shore tax haven. Clearly one man’s poverty is not another’s. When the Queen or the Prime Minister can claim to be hard hit financially, then the world really has disappeared up its own fundament.
Still perhaps it is all 110% true
When a cosmetic advertisement advises us that “79% agree” that their skin product is wonderful we also see a fleeting line along the bottom of the screen indicating that 46 out of 58 women tested thought it made an improvement. Presumably the other 12 thought it made no difference, or worse. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
In short, anything with UP TO, ALWAYS MORE THAN, ALWAYS LESS THAN, and so on should be viewed with suspicion: doubly so, if the claims also include a % sign!
If such words emanate from a politician….simply flush them down the loo where they belong.
In praise of sweet nothings!
Always look out for empty phrases! I well remember an advertisement from my youth, no, not from a young male companion, from the time many years ago when the world was a green and wonderful place.
It went like this: “Nothing acts faster than Anadin.“
Now for the uninitiated Anadin is an analgesic: a headache pill.
But, if nothing acts faster, as my father pointed out to me, perhaps we would be better off saving our money and taking nothing.
So, watch out for the whole range of Nothings: Nothing works better, looks better, acts faster, tastes nicer, helps you lose weight faster, and so on. They abound in the world of displays and advertising media.
The Chemist shop that apocryphally claimed “We dispense with accuracy” has always been one of my personal favourites, although that seems to have become a mantle picked up by one of our high street chains these days, judging from my personal experience.
Beware, spotting these things is habit forming and can damage your health
Once you get on a roll with things like this, it can become akin to train spotting. Do not share your obsession with most of your friends or colleagues. Such practices are best enjoyed as fairly solitary pleasures.
They will quite quickly drive those who are not fans right up the wall, but I offer a few of my favourites as a sort of starter kit.
40% off all trousers – I ponder idly about which parts of the trousers are missing. Would, say, one trouser leg make up the required 40% reduction?
This door is alarmed – Well! what caused that situation? Who frightened it? That’s what I want to know.
This toilet is out of use – Good. Presumably, that means that it is available. I would hate to enter one that was in use! Ugh!
Disabled toilets? – Well, fix them! It is generally not the toilets that are disabled. They may be designed for the convenience of people with particular disabilities, but hopefully the toilets have not been disabled.
Do not use these lifts in case of fire – What? Not ever? Does this mean that these lifts are highly combustible and may burst into flames if used, or does it really mean do not use the lift in the event of a fire?
Amounts of items – Why is it so difficult to get the required amount of intelligence to understand that items do not come in amounts, they come in numbers? In the same way that it would sound ridiculous to talk of a large number of sand, it is daft to talk about a large amount of marbles. Get it?
I could go on.
In fact, I usually do until I lose my marbles.
However, 10.00 pm is fast approaching, the time that the Covid fairy appears, and here comes the nurse with my medication.
I’m off to protect out NHS which is probably overrun with cabinet members receiving treatment for strained sinews resulting from their Herculean efforts.
As a post script, REMEMBER TODAY’S GOVERNMENT MANTRA: