Appendix: gag-reflex grammar



Constructive dismissal of the VERB : This is NOT a matter of the linguistic etiquette that preoccupies self-appointed defenders of ‘correct’, ‘standard’ or ‘received’ usage.  Anyone making claims about ‘correct’ pronunciation spouts pure class-cultural bigotry.  Codified spelling – a fairly recent imposition on the highly syncretic English language – is mere decoration provided the words can be recognized. Word order and punctuation matter because they decide what a sentence says: any ‘rule’ unrelated to this function is a dead letter.  But at stake in the status of the infinitive verb is the very possibility of articulating and acting on relations in a temporal, changeable world.*

Dismissal of the verb may involve recruiting a scab noun to do its work: I access the internet, we leverage our strengths…

Or consultant Frankensteins may reanimate the body of a noun as the simulacrum of a verb whose monstrous nature is betrayed by its lack of an infinitive, as in: transitioning, conferencing, messaging

More general flight from the verb-dependent, inconveniently specific sentence is evident in what may for the sake of concision be called the PowerPoint style, although its use is by no means limited to company slideshows.  Discrete units of information – or bursts of exhortation – appear to float free in graphic space.  Except the space is not free: the relation between each killer factoid, compact homily or brusque imperative and the next is left unarticulated not because it is undecided, but because it’s presumed to be self-evident and meant to be beyond contestation.  The requirement to guess it right is one more way of exacting subjective ‘investment’ in the job, the project, the advertised product or whatever.  For similar reasons the transitive function (connecting subject to action to object) tends to be amputated from any verbs that do show up in this format.  Create, inspire: an open-ended injunction leaves the recipient to seek the means of compliance within herself.

These and kindred methods downgrade the verb to something like a by-product of the noun, an accessory it can almost do without (or at best a windy intransitive, an internal flexing of the psychic profile).  Language subsides into a series of tags attached to inert things, independent of action, history and each other but neatly susceptible to valuation and exchange.  A habit as old as accountancy, but one renewed in recent decades by risk management and the drive to account for contingency itself in verbless data series, configured for exchange whether by traders in packets of ‘exposure’ or between behaviour modification teams.

Subordination of the verb is directed against the infinitive in particular.  The impersonalinfinitive gives actions and relations the same independent ‘reality’ in language that things and attributes receive from nouns.  Without the infinitive the verb can exist only by grace of a noun, implying a world where actions and accidents would be somehow less material than their agents and patients, subjects and objects more real than the relations between them.  The ‘language’ fully fitted to such a world would be no more than a list of proper names, or property values.

*Some people will say: “language isn’t static, it changes, there’s no point resisting it”.  They’re right on the first two points, but wrong to ignore the difference between kinds of ‘change’.  Language is not static: its expressive and differentiating powers expand with the perpetual invention and migration of dirty vernaculars, leaving older forms intact.  But ‘change’ of the verbicidal kind, imposed at managerial level, erases differences, invents nothing and demands conformity.  The scope of what’s possible to say is reduced.  It’s worse than static, it’s an ultimatum to surrender.


Number and substance confused:  As in: a plan to cut 1,000 jobs, when the jobs are actually to be eliminated altogether – i.e. their number ‘cut’ – rather than each job reduced in magnitude*.  Also: the plural ‘s’ applied to nouns indivisible in the singular: technologies, un/certainties, rigidities, in/efficiencies, revenues, synergies, behaviours.  And conversely: elision of multiple, distinct and contradictory processes in abstract, indivisible singular nouns: development, innovation, prosperity, aspiration, crime.  Indifference to the difference between substance and number is hardly surprising as a by-product of an economy based on abstraction of human labour into saleable form.  But in practice what is most often occluded is quantity, lest a claim to it be staked.

*When, in the first phase of the ongoing financial crisis to be reported as such, many employers reduced hours and wages rather than the number of workers employed, it would have made sense to say the jobs were ‘cut’, but the expression was not used.


Plural forms  applied to corporate entities (‘we’/’they’ for a business, a state, etc.):  A remote recruitment technique, through which a bunch of particulars are pre-emptively enrolled as willing agents of whatever institution they find themselves caught up in.  Outside the world of Identity Economics, plural forms apply where a plurality of subjects do the same thing or fall into the same category independently of one another, whereas a group referred to as such requires the singular.  ‘The unemployed are reluctant to eat dirt’; ‘the Naples Unemployed Movement blocks departing ferries, occupies museums and shuts down summer tourism’.  But in the language of stakeholder empathy the institution is the subject while the members lumped into it remain plural: teeming motes of Natural Right spontaneously coinciding in a corporate General Will.  ‘We are driven by our passion for customer service excellence’: the plural form ascribes the queasy emotion individually to everyone ‘driven’ to work for that particular wage.