Yes, “New Speak,” as George Orwell once phrased it in “1984,” is alive and well in Palo Alto -- not only at City Hall but around the area.
It’s a lovely way of making us feel happy and virtuous.
Were things so simple! It’s as if merely changing a word or sentence can make us all feel better. Complaining is bad, we’re told, complimenting is good. We praise people, as in “Your hair looks nice today,” or “I like the socks you are wearing.” Socks?
The new way of speaking is to use more pleasant-sounding words, calling everything nice, or better yet, “great.” How are you feeling? Before the coronavirus hit, everyone always responded, “GREAT!”
New words are streaming across the country. We talk about “crime think” (thinking the wrong thing about some idea), and people who are “woke” (aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice), and “canceling culture” (getting rid a statues and symbols that once were thought to be appropriate at the time.
The word I really like was comedian Stephen Colbert’s creation: “truthiness,” when he referred to some presidential remarks.
New speak is also alive and well at City Hall. I watched Monday night’s council meeting, when more budget cuts were proposed, and there was a lot of subtle double speak. We weren’t talking about a budget deficit, instead it was a “budget realignment.” City employees weren’t being fired, the city instead was just “downsizing” and “not at full employee capacity.” The staff report to the council didn’t contain recommendations for actions, but – solutions! By the way, what was once reported as a necessary $7 million in cuts conveniently dwindled in size to $4.8 million. Thus, it is a “flexible” budget.
One council member said he was “not negative to a proposal,” meaning he was really positive. There were “gaps” in the budget, staff told the council. The gaps weren’t defined. I wonder if any of them would ever become a “hole.” But I guess that would probably be a politically incorrect word.
New council members have been told to be “nice” to staff, and to praise them after their reports. The council also knows “We must be civil.”
The budget was approved, with major and minor cuts to a potpourri of items -- like no travel, which will save the city a whopping $300,000 in the multi-million budget.
My conclusion: I think staff and council members are trying hard to predict and control the city’s budget during a very unpredictable coronavirus period, which affects sales, housing, hotels – and city income dramatically. I just think the new speak language that is being used is fun and funny.
And I certainly want us to be nice to each other, especially in these times when the country has become so divided and so many people have become mean. It’s wonderful to compliment others. But try to be sincere and not saccharine when you do.