The airline regrets to announce a continuing delay to Flight 123 to Belfast City. This has been caused by the late arrival of the incoming aircraft.’
Can you spot what might be wrong with that announcement, the like of which you will hear in airports all over these isles on a daily basis?
What's going on beneath the brisk, apologetic Tannoy message? It seems merely to be relaying information to harassed commuters with the promise of further updates, doesn't it?
The airline regrets. That's okay. Although, in truth, the girl who's expressing her sorrow seems to be going through the motions. She could be filing her nails and talking about last night's X Factor, such is the dispassionate way she delivers her lines.
I've always understood regret to mean sadness, disappointment, or even distress over the loss of something. I'm not that sure she really cares about my loss of a morning, or that I have to take out a second mortgage to buy another vat of lukewarm coffee while waiting for further updates.
But let's give her the benefit of the doubt. She is, after all, passing on the message that it is the airline doing the regretting. A mass corporate regret, then?
Perhaps, somewhere in HQ, schedulers are weeping real tears about this delay. But the regret bit of that message is not what we should be dwelling on. For there are dark arts lurking later on in its syntax that few understand.
Only those who travel regularly and have the time and the questionable mentality (ie me) to deconstruct the words can understand what's going on here. And we have a scary, Matrix-style glimpse into another world. We know what they are trying to do. While other early-morning commuters, with the eyes of fish that have been too long on the slab, chat dully about their jobs, we are cursed with ‘understanding’. It is the second part of the announcement that you should focus on. She is giving us the reason why we will have to wait another hour in this over-lit hellhole, with its strange rules.
The cause is ‘the late arrival of the incoming aircraft’. What could be plainer? But, hang on. Is the incoming aircraft operated by a different company? The answer is no. The aircraft is actually the same one, run by the same airline, with the same pilots and cabin crew So when my sing-song girl uses the word ‘caused’ she is misleading us. The ‘late arrival’ is not the cause of the delay.
It could be sheer incompetence at the root of problem, maybe a wing came loose, but we will never know for sure, for what she has done is remove the company from any blame for the lateness. We, like you all, are at the mercy of the Fates, she seems to be saying. And therein lies the genius.
Someone, somewhere has spent a lot of time agonising over these words. Perhaps a whole team of corporate-speak gremlins in the bowels of HQ have devised their masterpiece. I hope you don't think me an obsessive (you do, don’t you?), but I have taken on the self-appointed role of exposing this Orwellian language. It's dirty work, but someone has to do it.
Next week: ‘The cabin crew are there for your comfort, but primarily for your safety.’ What they really mean and why.
Mike Gilson is Editor of the Belfast Telegraph