H4cked Off: The worst job I ever had

By John Leonard
11 Feb 2013 View Comments
lobster

When I was at school, in order to fill the long dark days while we waited for the Game Boy to be invented, kids (well, nerdy boys to be precise) used to re-enact comedy sketches.

Further reading

Firm favourites were the works of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. These two were hilarious and brilliant wordsmiths. More importantly, especially in their incarnation as Derek and Clive, they were absolutely filthy.

One particular sketch that was recited ad nauseam was The Worst Job I Ever Had. This featured 1950s film star Jayne Mansfield, a lovely woman, according to Derek and Clive, but one who suffered from an unpleasant and highly unusual intolerance to seafood.

The worst job I ever had was sub-editing the Software User's Yearbook Products Volume 1998. There was precious little wordsmithery within its 1,200 pages, and an almost criminal lack of filth or humour of any kind.

This was the golden age of software, when programming was the new rock 'n' roll, having just snatched that accolade from stand-up comedy. Every man, woman and child was seemingly churning the stuff out from backrooms, garages and sheds across the land. A short time later, of course, most would be brutally culled by the dotcom crash, with the remaining few hoovered up by Microsoft and Oracle, but that's another story.

A directory featuring 40,000 must-have software products with glowing descriptions written by their authors or hired hands, the Software User's Yearbook Products Volume 1998 was rendered almost completely unintelligible by the blurb writers' insistence on squeezing every single buzzword going into their allotted 100 words.

 

At many points during the long and terrible subbing process I felt my sanity ebbing away under the weight of all this blather. What kept me from going under completely were the occasional (usually unintended) points of hilarity.

Don't have a cow

For example, I did enjoy reading about a "powerful non-bovine stock management solution", which I'm sure, given its billing, stood head and muscular shoulders above a field bristling with non-bovine stock management solutions.

In 1998 "powerful" and "solution" were two words that had to be included, no matter what. Miss out the "powerful" and readers would surely conclude that your software was feeble. Omit "solution" and they might think they didn't have a problem after all. And where's the use in that?

The trouble is, once all of the superlatives had been shoehorned in, there was no room to say what the software actually did – which is, of course, to miss the point. Marketing is all about emotions and nothing about answers. You're supposed to think "Damn! That non-bovine stock management solution makes me feel GOOD!" first, and "I wonder what it does?" a distant second.

This might work for washing powder or cars, but does it really work for software?

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