Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The Dangers of Archaeo-speak

As along term fan of the Carry On movie franchise of the 1950s, 60s and early 70s, I must confess to a great fondness for the Great British euphemism, something which, when used well, can not only disguise the offensive, but can also render rude (and socially unacceptable) terms into a multitude of wonderfully comical varieties.

Euphemisms have, however, taken an increasingly darker and more surreal turn of late, especially within political circles, larger corporations and the military, where attempts to obscure meaning have been elevated to one of the higher and more curious forms of art. Particularly fine examples of the genre include “downsizing” (sacking the workforce), “pacify” (to kill), “extraordinary rendition” (torture) and “collateral damage” (murder of civilians – or should I say “non combatants”?).

Such verbal camouflage is, of course, not exclusive to politics, business and the military and can be more frequently found within the world of archaeology and heritage. Here, euphemisms are employed as a way of obscuring the mundane and, perhaps more worryingly, injecting a spurious form of academic credibility. My current top ten favourite examples of such archaeo-speak (or perhaps I should say archaeological doublespeak), where banal reality is disguised by pseudo-intellectualism, comprise (in reverse order):

10) Ground intervention (digging a hole)

9) Limited ground intervention (digging a small hole)

8) Heritage asset (anything that is old)

7) Cultural heritage receptor (someone who likes old things)

6) Spheres of reciprocity (selling things)

5) Peer polity interaction (selling things to your friends)

4) Ritualised hoarding (burying things)

3) Rites of intensification (burying lots of things)

2) Hypothetico-deductive explanation (a guess)

1) Phenomenology (a nice long walk with your eyes open)

Archaeo-speak (or Archaeo-doublespeak) ultimately serves very little purpose other than to impress other archaeologists whilst simultaneously alienating the general public, who quite rightly want facts and a good story, not euphemism, misinformation, verbal camouflage and techno-babble.

Excising simpler phrases and terms through a word-based form of “regime-change” creates what bold users of the art of doublespeak would call a “communication bypass” between practitioner and interested observer, generating an ever increasing gulf of incomprehension. Archaeologists have a duty to speak honestly and directly about their profession avoiding all attempts at euphemism, doublespeak and camouflage, otherwise the public will all too quickly loose interest.

In short, those in the profession have to curb their pseudo-academic sensibilities and call a spade a spade, not a “steel-bladed soil interface device”.

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