Thursday, September 4, 2008

When Is A Gift Not A Gift?

Because I subscribe to Vogue, Condé Nast thinks it’s a good idea to blast me with subscription offers for their entire catalogue. I have received letters about how fantastic it would be to bring my house up to The World Of Interiors standard, I’ve been told that GQ will endlessly enrich my reading with cultural and lifestyle issues and that Glamour is the UK’s first monthly mag for women, what am I waiting for? I’ll tell you what puts me off, this does:

Don't know what you're looking at? Well, have you ever heard of ‘an unmarried bachelor’? I didn’t think so. Of course, you never heard of it because all bachelors are, by implicit definition of bachelor, unmarried. Now I ask you, when is a gift not a gift my friends? Why do these people (and we can throw cosmetics’ companies in too, offering free gifts with purchase of two pots of something or other) feel the need to offer a free gift? Obviously, the Moleskin notebook is either a gift, and I don’t have to pay for it, which means it's free, or I pay for it, and therefore is not a gift anymore. Calling it a free gift is nonsensical propaganda, it is marketing for the illiterate. Gifts are always free; if they are not, they are not gifts.

This dis-engagement of our brains runs rampant across the way we speak and write. I think that, should I single out one such irritating misuse of intelligence, I think I would pick ‘moving forward’, a favourite of business people everywhere. I have clear (and ghastly) recollections of numerous meetings whereby we were going to do something ‘moving forward’ or we would ‘move forward’ thanks to a particular set of actions. How stupid did it always sound to my sensitive (and sensible) ears.

I ask you, have you ever seen anything ‘moving backwards’ save, perhaps a crab? Even so, a crab moves sideways, not backwards. Not even cars move backwards, they reverse. While I am aware that sometimes businesses know of a backward motion, they do so not because they are moving backwards, but because they are falling backwards. The problem is that any preposition tagged along moving, does not make any good, explicative sense. You can move up, but it doesn’t make very graceful writing or speaking; you rise, you gain stature or whatever applies to your context. You can move down, but then you may be dropping, sliding, leaving. You could move forward but moving forward really means proceeding, so why not using this word? I don’t know, I don’t have the answer.

I don’t know why we are kept into a blindfolded celebration of mediocrity taken as linguistic fact. I do not expect these offers for free gifts to stop coming through the letterbox any time soon, even though I’ve started to think that, perhaps, the Moleskin is not really free if I have to buy a subscription anyway and if it is not free... it cannot be a gift still. The problem remains. And you see, these writers, these appalling copywriters, do not see that. But you know what they say... beware of gits bearing gifts.
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