Thursday, January 26, 2012
'Most educated people don't realise how little impression abstract words make on the average man.' George Orwell
Don Watson’s book “Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language” called the bluff of lazy communicators, particularly in the world of corporations and government. Have a look at Watson's site "Weasel Words" to see how many people are still missing the message.
Are you tired of “going forward” to the “optimum outcome” for the “culture”? Are you ready to “support implementation of program strategies and prioritise project activities across the overall program schedule”, as one actual advertisement puts it? And such mangled language is not the only danger: we’ve all run up against jargon that is only understandable to initiates in a particular industry or profession. The legal profession might arguably be held up as a prime offender.
Whether you’re communicating in a 140-character tweet, crafting a short and snappy blog post, or writing a considered article on a new development in the law, make sure your readers can actually understand you. Amazingly, that’s a reminder that needs to be made.
It’s not always easy to convey legal notions in everyday plain English. Legal terms acquire a freight of meaning that carries precise nuances for lawyers. But that’s the task of the communicator: translate if necessary. And certainly don’t get trapped into weasel words that sound impressive but don’t actually convey any information. Go for precision.