Pomposity and purple prose
By Janine Lazarus
I was invited to deliver an informal presentation on Woman’s Day to a group of female hot shots from one of our biggest banks. There was no clear indication of topic – just a request for the ‘shoot from the hip’ approach that I make use of whenever I facilitate training programmes.
Well, speaking off the cuff, I’m loathe to admit, is a lot harder than it looks. It’s one thing to facilitate a workshop for a captive audience - or more to the point – to a paying client. It’s quite something else to hold people’s attention with an impromptu speech.
I think I may have managed to communicate some sort of message to the elegant ladies sitting around the breakfast table, but I left the function very ill at ease. Just what does it take to deliver a spur of the moment message that resonates with the audience?
Unfortunately, neither our President nor the American presidential hopeful lead by example. In fact, their ill thought-out hyperbole seems to be fast digging their own graves.
Since charity begins at home, let’s examine President Jacob Zuma’s fateful decision to speak off the cuff during question time in Parliament
. Seemingly provoked by questions from the opposition, he resorted to wordy bombast that did nothing more than spark outrage from opposing benches.
Responding to a question in the National Assembly on Lonmin
mine wage negotiations, he brazenly told MPs that in a democracy, the majority prevailed. And when asked if he would consider changes to the labour relations regime, he said: “You have more rights because you’re a majority; you have less rights because you’re a minority.
“That,” he bluntly put it, “is how democracy works. In a democratic situation, it is the majority that prevail. I can’t change the rules because you want to make a particular point.”
So, instead of a frank assessment on some of the most pressing issues facing the country, the President chose, in one fustian comment, to disregard the basic cornerstone of our constitution.
Another tarnished gem left the lips of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney when he dismissed almost half the US electorate at a closed-door fundraiser that, sadly for him, was secretly recorded.
The former Massachusetts governor told wealthy donors that nearly half of all Americans “believe they are victims,” and that as a candidate for the White House, “my job is not to worry about those people.”
Stony silences post gaffe, hastily called news conferences, or panicked retractions don’t make this type of rhetoric evaporate. In fact, any blunder or indiscreet remark will be construed as nothing more than a desperate attempt at damage control.
And despite reassurances to the contrary that nothing untoward or incorrect has been said, purple prose may very well be the kind of thing that decides on how people vote. The thing with shoot from the hip comments is that they are crystal clear for all to hear.
Janine Lazarus Media Consultancy
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