"Political language," observed George Orwell in his great essay on Politics and the English Language, "is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." Much the same applies to the output of the public relations industry.
One of the most important public services that mainstream journalism can provide, therefore, consists of decoding PR-speak by translating its half-truths, unsupported assertions and evasions into plain English.
In my part of the jungle, the area that is most in need of linguistic cleansing is so-called "digital rights management" or DRM. Even the phrase is phoney. It is a euphemism for "digital restrictions management" -- because the whole point is to impose constraints on consumers -- to make it difficult for them to copy content for which they have already paid from one format to another. For example, like copying music on a CD so that it can be played on an iPod.
In February, Steve Jobs, Apple's chief executive, published an open letter in which he argued that the time had come to abandon DRM on music distributed online via outlets like his iTunes store.
"Imagine a world," he wrote, "where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store."
Jobs's letter caused quite a stir. It especially alarmed the outfits that make money by providing DRM technology, chief among them Macrovision, a US company that specializes in content protection and software licensing.
But finding a way of responding to Jobs' challenge impaled the DRM industry on the horns of a dilemma -- after all, the Apple boss's idea of abolishing DRM is popular with consumers, so an attack on it might backfire on the industry. What, therefore, should the DRM lobby do?
The answer, of course, was to resort to PR-speak. The most hilarious example came from Macrovision CEO Fred Amoroso, who published a reply to Jobs. Connoisseurs of cant will recognize the Amoroso missive as a prime example of the genre, but the mainstream media reported it deadpan and it fell to John Gruber, a well-known blogger, to apply an Orwellian filter to it. His translation is available in full at tinyurl.com/2b7yns, but here are some highlights.
Amoroso: "I would like to thank Steve Jobs for offering his provocative perspective on the role of DRM in the electronic content marketplace and for bringing to the forefront an issue of importance to the industry and consumers."
Translation: Fuck you, Jobs.
Amoroso: "While your thoughts are seemingly directed solely to the music industry, the fact is that DRM also has a broad impact across many different forms of content and across many media devices. Therefore, the discussion should not be limited to just music."
Translation: We recognize that if getting rid of DRM works for the music industry, it's going to open the eyes of executives in other fields and it could unravel Macrovision's entire business.