The way language is used by the maritime community has always been of great interest to me as a writer. I believe I was the first to criticise the buzzword “the human element” to refer to seafarers. Back in 2012 — when the shipping industry had swallowed the phrase hook, line and sinker — I wrote that the use of the term was unfortunate. It sounded too cold and was reminiscent of the periodic table of elements invented by the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev.

It all boils down to a question of human relations and sentiments. But who cares about such things in the mechanistic world of shipping? The 2019 ‘Day of the Seafarer’ celebrations and the continuing blabber about wellness training have once again shown how easily maritime professionals are swayed by platitudes and slogans. The consequence can be disastrous when rhetoric pushes reason aside. The following quotations should serve as a reminder that language is important and that people should examine how they use it.

The second-rate mind is in command of the ponderously spoken platitude.

~C. Wright Mills, American sociologist (1916–1962)

He utters empty words, he utters sound without mind.

~Virgil, Latin poet (70 BC–19 BC)

In all labor there is profit, But idle chatter leads only to poverty.

~Proverbs 14:23, New King James version of the Bible

His very words are a fantastical banquet, just so many strange dishes.

~William Shakespeare (1564–1616), in Much Ado About Nothing

Words realize nothing, vivify nothing to you, unless you have suffered in your own person the thing which the words try to describe.

~Mark Twain, American writer (1835–1910)

Words are magical in the way they affect the minds of those who use them.

~Aldous Huxley, English writer and philosopher (1894–1963)

In conversation avoid the extremes of forwardness and reserve.

~Cato the Elder, Roman statesman ((234–149 BC)

The skillful class of flatterers praise the discourse of an ignorant friend and the face of a deformed one.

~Juvenal, Roman satiric poet, (c.60–c.140)

We sometimes think that we hate flattery, but we only hate the manner in which it is done.

~François de La Rochefoucauld, French writer (1613–1680)

Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society… The fact of the matter is that the “real world” is to a large extent unconsciously built upon the language habits of the group.

~Edward Sapir, American anthropologist-linguist (1884–1939)

The phenomenon we know as political correctness thrives on people’s permitting themselves to be intimidated by the people who are the enforcers of these norms and orthodoxies.

~Robert Peter George, American legal scholar and political philospher (born 10 July 1955)

When did political correctness ever change reality?

~Frankie the Sage Cat (born circa 2010)

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