Don't mention the war!

One of my favourite moments in British comedy is the episode of Fawlty Towers with Basil and the German restaurant guest.

I’m sure you’ll know immediately what I am talking about, Basil having made a total ass of himself, leans over and advises staff: Whatever you do, don’t mention the war! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it!

I couldn’t help but think of Basil in reading of an instruction to Qantas employees to avoid wishing people a happy Christmas.  At risk of being culturally insensitive, I rather suspect that the word “Christmas” is interpreted fairly generically to mean the expenditure of significant amounts of money, along with the consumption of copious quantities of food and alcohol.  In a world where church attendance has plunged, perhaps with the exception of the Islamic world, I doubt Christmas carries too much religious weight.

And yet senior management seem to attach a lot of meaning to words – and wield them almost in the fashion of a weapon to guide thoughts and behaviour.  Over the years I have frequently encountered words that are explicitly banned.  I know of one major conglomerate that ordered people to stop using the word “strategy”, another that banned the use of the word “sales”. 

Years ago I agonised over the changing the name of our news program from Seven Nightly News to Seven News.  I can still recall the sage advice of our advertising strategist at the time: John, what do people call your news?  When I thought about it, they probably called it a whole bunch of things but what they meant was more about the nightly habit of switching on to hear from their friends Rick and Sue (the news presenters).  My angst over the name was unwarranted – and so we changed – and no one noticed. 

In my experience, banning words tends to backfire.  Focus more on helping people to understand the intent and meaning of what you are trying to convey.  As for Christmas…I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it! 

Happy…you know what….