Dot Wordsworth


Mind Your Language on the vague officialese that is turning into new language: one called ‘Ras’

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The Foreword didn’t bode well. This was on the first page of The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices. It was a ‘Foreword by Mathew’ as though he were some promising infant. In the second sentence he gave thanks ‘for the support and the respect for my independence which has been shown by her [Theresa May’s] team’. Two things — support and respect — should have a plural verb: have. As for support, we would hear it more than 100 further times. Support came thick and fast, more than once per page. Sometimes it meant ‘agree with’: ‘We support the basic principle of a more dynamic, responsive welfare system.’ More often it was used in strange ways, as befits a public body such as the Royal Society of Arts, which Mr Taylor heads. Let us call the new language ‘Ras’.

Ras sometimes uses support to mean ‘help make possible’. Thus the review says ‘Flexibility has been a key part of enabling business to respond to changing market conditions and has supported record employment rates.’ In Ras, a chief new meaning of support is simply ‘help’, as in ‘supporting individuals to remain and progress in the labour market’. In traditional English, that would have read ‘helping individuals to remain’ or ‘supporting individuals who remain’.

But how would you under-stand supporting in this ripe sample of Ras: ‘Portable benefit platforms can be third-party vehicles supporting gig economy businesses to make payments on behalf of an individual working through them.’ There it is not helping businesses but (as it says on the same page) ‘to “nudge” people’. Now if someone asked me if I’d like to be supported down the stairs, I would not expect a sharp nudge in the back.

The motive force of support in Ras can be quite strong, as when the review speaks of ‘supporting individuals to pay the right tax’. Perhaps such support comes from uniformed personnel. A mature example of Ras syntax appears in ‘digital solutions to support self-employed people comply with their legal requirements’. To ‘support people comply’ is in English ‘make people comply’. As a Ras proverb might say: ‘You can lead a horse to water but you can’t support him drink.’