It came to Archimedes in his bath, but Boston writer Richard D. Rosen was in a bar when the insight loomed before him, large as the proverbial pink elephant. The young lady drinking with him set it off. “I’ve really been getting in touch with myself lately,” she confided. “I’ve struck some really deep chords.” Rosen recognized the jargon, as would anyone who’s watched television—especially the late-night talk shows—listened to pop music, or even taken a ride on the bus lately. But it dawned on Rosen that her words were nothing more than “psychobabble”—hippie argot laced with psychiatric terms to give the impression of weight and meaning. In that instant. Rosen isolated the verbal atrocity that’s been festering for a decade and making even those most staunchly opposed to corruption of the language unconscious users of its glib, facile phrases.
Rosen didn’tshout “Eureka!” but he did bring out a book late last year called Psychobabble: Fas! Talk And Quick Cure In The Era Of Feeling, which is being bought in quantities large enough to suggest that Canadians, too. are looking for an antidote. Psychobabble used to be imported from California, but it's now being manufactured here by people like folk singer Dan Hill, whose songs brought him honors at the Juno Awards in March, but reap nothing but scorn from Homer Hogan. professor of English at the University of Guelph. Hogan, who has kept an eye on Hill as part of Operation Lingo, his campaign against the abuse of English, observes that “Dan is a psychobabbler in the tradition of Rod McKuen.” Some professional people think it’s almost too late for the language: one linguist has called psychobabble “the latest victory of dehumanization over us all.” while others deem it the harbinger of the “Newspeak” anticipated by George Orwell in his novel. 1984.
Psychobabblers would merely groan at these criticisms: “Don’t lay value judgments on me, man; don’t mess with my head.” The response of academics does seem a trifle out of proportion to what seems like just another species of slang. Psychobabble, after all. is gobbledygook’s hip younger brother, and no more ridiculous than a lot of the professional jargon that's become part of the language. We all use bop talk (which gave us “the Big Apple”): jock talk (“Are you a Winner or Loser in the Game of Life?”): space talk (“All systems go. Gladys”); and the varieties of ghetto slang, gay jargon, and entertainmentese. darlings, that seep in and enrich the vocabulary.
Certainly, there's nothing new in using technical jargon to bully the uninitiated or to achieve prestige. Back in the Twenties, middle-brows larded their conversations with psychiatric terms to prove they were wealthy or dotty enough to have come within couch’s length of analysis. Since then, psychiatry and its special terms have been democratized.. Anyone who has a complaisant friend can play doctor-analyst and freely diagnose conditions ranging from acute anxiety to schizophrenia: there is no more fear in the land, there is only paranoia; nor are there moody people, only manic depressives. All that jargon doesn’t do any real psychological harm, says Dr. Stanley Freeman, staff psychiatrist at Toronto’s Clarke Institute, but it is dangerous because of the “anti-intellectual. anti-critical, woolly-headed thinking that it’s loosed on the continent.”
Psychobabble has come a long way since it was a tribal language born out of the “interface” (meeting) of the drug experience and its slang with the social protest move-
All you need is self-actualization
See Dick. See Jane. See Dick so concerned with the-( A)_
of his life force that Jane is-(B)-the-(C)of their
Select any word from each of the three columns to make a
sentence that’s into the same head space, psychobabblewise.
meaningfulness doing a number on supportiveness
relevance verbalizing about psychic energy
dynamics interfacing with parameters
conceptualization making value judgments on inner rhythms
celebrating uptight about real-life experience
ment of the Sixties. After the failure of social reform, the revolution turned inward and spawned the greatest era ever for “getting your head together.” The same silent majority that rejected the political revolution turned on and dropped in to the selfhelp movement by the millions. The message came to them in the form of hundreds of jargon-filled paperbacks, such as the hugely successful I’m OKYou ’re OK by
Thomas A. Harris. Roy Hiscox, president of Barrdawn Sales in Toronto, says those books have taken the place once occupied by romances and mysteries. “They outsell anything but a blockbuster novel by somebody like Arthur Hailey.”
One of the most recent self-help books, Harold C. Lyon Jr.’s Tenderness Is Strength, features a foreword by another psychobabbling folk singer, John Denver. The book leaks psychobabble right from the acknowledgments, in which Lyon gives thanks “for the space (you have) helped create and open in me and in my continually transforming life.” That could be a mash note to Lyon’s gardener, but in fact it’s only a bit of back scratching within the psychobabble industry. He’s thanking former car salesman Jack Rosenberg, now better known as Werner Erhard, founder of est.
To George Woodcock, Canada’s foremost literary authority, psychobabble represents nothing less than “a collapse of the language and of the power to think clearly.” The increase of obfuscating jargon has been going on for 30 to 40 years, he notes, “but this is the final stage, where TV and advertisements disseminate it to the entire community.” Woodcock points optimistically to the regeneration of the English language following periods of stultification in both the late 18th and early 20th centuries. It has happened before; it may happen again. In the meantime, the vibes are so bad they could drive a man to interface with drink. KASPARS DZEGUZE
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