How many times have you heard or read the phrase “We take (insert_topic_here) very seriously…” in a newspaper or broadcast media news item?

Today’s Guardian website includes a report with not just one but two organisations – HS2 and the Environment Agency – claiming precisely that they take matters within their respective bailiwicks “incredibly seriously” (HS2) and “very seriously” (Environment Agency).

This “seriously” – whether qualified or not – appears to be part of the hackneyed stock reply to the unearthing of errors or shortcomings that the bodies involved would have preferred not to have come to light and seems to your ‘umble scribes mind to be shorthand for “we’ve been caught out“.

Another way of describing them is weasel words, i.e. something that someone says either to avoid answering a question clearly or to make someone believe something that is not true. In other words lies and/or hypocrisy are brought into play to save the reputation and embarrassment of the organisation involved and its senior management.

The Guardian’s story appears to be a classic example of the modern (mis)use of the adverb seriously. However, your correspondent does at the same time note that neither of the organisations involved resorted to that other stock phrase frequently wheeled out when they’ve been found wanting, i.e.: “We have robust measures in place…“. But let’s leave the deceit inherent in the use of robust for another time.

Finally, if HS2 is sincere, the use of the adverb “incredibly also merits examination. Its dictionary definition is “difficult to believe“, so in effect what HS2’s was actually saying is that it is hard to believe the organisation takes the matter seriously at all. 😀