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The shadow of uncertainty

September 23, 2011

Listening to David Cameron address the UN reminds me that political and business language gets perilously close to poetry at times. An odd idea? Consider what he says when talking of the present dangers to the economy, urging us to avoid ‘…lengthening the shadows of uncertainty’. Is ‘uncertainty’, an abstract-noun, capable of having a shadow?  We use the words to create an image, a kind of metaphor, and evoke a reaction, or a sense of something threatening.

And how long would that shadow be? It has to have a length in order to be lengthened. Is such a shadow a bad thing? In what way? Lots of unanswered questions.

The poetry of business-speak

In business, we are very fond of this kind of statement. Similar examples include ‘a climate of uncertainty’. Or do we mean a ‘period’ of uncertainty? Can a climate possess human qualities or emotions? This anthropomorphism is also a poetic device.

Functional language

In business, we do not intentionally write poetry: we value prose that is functional and easily understood. Metaphor is fine, but the more complex, less logical language of poetry is designed to operate in a different timescale, developing atmosphere for a purpose other than just to inform.  Mangling figures of speech can ‘cast a shadow’. Use with great care, if at all.

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