There’s a lot in the words we use and the way we use them.
I was reminded of this subject, not so much when I first read the word “blistering”, but later when it was used to describe a dog running home to take second place. It makes you wonder what the winner did. First applied by GRV’s Watchdog, the practice has now spread across the nation. Words like good, fast, quick and so on are of little use today in the greyhound world, while anything critical or nasty is a definite no-no.
“Sensational” is another favourite but its real meaning must remain in the mind of the writer, along with “gobsmacked” which was attached to a race won the other night in Melbourne by Sweet It Is. The fact that its time is regularly equalled or bettered by a lot of other dogs was missed in all the excitement.
Such performances should always be described in context, but seldom are.
Indeed, race broadcasters often tend to set an imaginary scene as well. Favourites usually come out “fairly” (whatever that means) whether they are third, fourth or last to the first marker. Many runners have “no luck” when in fact they have an annoying habit of creating their own bad luck on a regular basis. Or they simply bungle the start. That matters little to SKY viewers, who can see for themselves, but it is pretty important for radio listeners at home, or for those reading formguide comments about past races.
Those same guys (where are the women?) are also prone to tell you every night about a great meeting coming up tomorrow at XYZ, regardless of the quality of the fields. As with the racing authority websites, it emphasises the fact that nearly all the public comment about greyhound racing comes from people who are paid to support the code. (You might remember that in pre-SKY days the broadcaster was always paid by the club and the habits seem to persist today).
It’s all part of the Good News theme which is universally adopted by racing authorities and other commentators bar, of course, this publication which tries to present all sides of the discussion. (Reports of suspensions and penalties get a good run here and often rank amongst the “most read”).
One consequence of this policy is that the words usually go in one ear and out the other. They end up being of minimal interest to the public although they can be pleasing to the owner/trainer of the dog involved. That may make them feel good but it does not put any more money in the till or help the industry’s image.
Anyway, the issue came to light recently from a couple of different angles.
First, a review by John Preston of The Telegraph in London highlighted the value of the book Plain Words by Sir Ernest Gowers, revised and updated by his great grand-daughter Rebecca Gowers (Penguin). The original Gowers wrote and revised the best-selling book several times while working for the UK Treasury pre- and post-WW11.
Gowers advised writers to “steer clear of clichés” and to stick to his three golden rules: “Be short, be simple and be human”
He had support from others who are concerned about all the gobbledygook. “I think a lot of it comes from people writing to impress rather than to inform,” says Tony Maher, general manager of the Plain English Society. “They don’t stop to consider who might be reading this stuff. They just think their bosses will be impressed by as many long words as they can put in – and of course it makes no sense at all.”
Politicians got a serve from author George Orwell: “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
And from Winston Churchill. “Broadly speaking, the short words are the best,” Churchill said, “and the old ones when short are the best of all.”
Speaking of politicians, Janet Albrechtsen of The Australian (June 4) likens present day governments to “a 21st-century form of tyranny” – the tyranny of paternalism. ‘Swathes of social policy are being delegated by parliament to unelected bureaucrats at the expense of democracy”. Unfortunately, as “the power of bureaucrats expands, our power as citizens shrinks”.
There is a parallel here. Racing is run by bureaucracies in each state and code, and each has a habit of growing every year in size and influence, regardless of their relationships with the Boards in question. In some cases, there is more than one Board involved (in Queensland and WA, for example), leading to further confusion, and all have to contend with the influence of the Racing Minister’s own bureaucracy, which can be considerable.
A good idea would be to require all authorities to include in their annual reports a couple of key indicators; the administration (including consultancies) cost per race conducted, and the number of races run per administration employee. That might offer some interesting comparisons.