June 22, 2008

Important Safety Tip: Speak -- and Write -- Clearly

THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION, a British lobby that promotes the interests of local Governments there, has done the world a service this past week. The group wrote a letter to its members warning them they must use plain English if they want the people they serve to have any hope of understanding them. As such, it drew up a list of 100 words and phrases they ought avoid, ranging from "empowerment" and "sustainable communities" to "core value" and "facilitate." Better to use phrases like people power, environmentally friendly, belief and help, the agency said.

As an American, I can sum up my reaction in two words: many thanks. After all, as an American, I am subjected to an incredible and debilitating amount of jargon on a daily basis -- not only from the Government, but from business and sports leaders. I hope the worldwide coverage of the LGA's letter will cause people everywhere to recognize the value of clear yet precise language. This is not merely a selfish consideration, either. My greatest fear is that some American businessman will inadvertently stumble across a lethal combination of jargon from the commercial, sports and Government arenas, resulting in an economic and political panic that will make tulipmania look like a cocktail party:

IMPORTANT EXECUTIVE: Thanks to a bit of trickeration, we were able to audibilize on the ground and commit to a synergy-enhancing deal proving accretive in the third quarter, all while balancing stakeholders' interests with our revenue guidance, which will be in line with our previous estimates, and --
ANALYST (on mute): Dear God! He's mad!

What's that? No, I'm not overreacting. Crises in confidence often start out with small things, don't they?

Anyway, since we're on a crusade to clean up the English language, here is my list of words and phrases that should be taken out in the back and shot. In no particular order, they are:

AUDIBILIZE: This alleged transitive verb is drawn from the world of American football, where a quarterback changing the play at the line of scrimmage "calls an audible." Use a form of change or quick change instead.

UTILIZE: You mean use, so use that instead.

TRICKERATION: Just because ESPN sportscasters use the phrase does not mean you should. Use trickery or deception.

IT IS WHAT IT IS: Athletes and their coaches can gain style points with the public through using more refined language. Try It can't be helped or, even better, The die has been cast. Julius Caesar said that, you know!

INCENTIVIZE: Instead of incentivizing the sales team, you gave them bonus targets.

ENHANCE: You mean improve.

ALLEGEDLY: Avoid this word through writing better. Do not write: John Smith allegedly robbed the Sixth Fourth Bank on Main Street. Rather, write: Police have charged John Smith with robbing the Sixth Fourth Bank on Main Street.

AT THIS JUNCTURE: Unless you're Dana Carvey doing an impression, forget it.

STAKEHOLDER: Group or party.

E- or WEB ANYTHING: Online.

WORKING FAMILIES: The working poor, or the lower-middle class, whichever is applicable.




WEALTHY: Filthy rich.

HOMESITE: House lot.

USER FEE: Use tax.

PARADIGM: Mindset.

PARTNER: In business, partner should be reserved for a colleague who has equity in your business. Do not use it when you are describing a company with which you do business or have a relationship. Especially do not use it in reference to the consultancy you've hired.

NEXT GENERATION: The (goddamned) kids.

METRICS: Standards.

ENTERPRISE: Corporation; a large company.

AT THE END OF THE DAY: At the end of the day, this is superfluous. Just strike it and say what you actually mean to say.

Well, now that I've thrown that out on the stoop -- oops! -- I hope it will, in some small measure, help people realize that if you say what you mean it can help you achieve your goals faster. Either that, or it will help spawn a resurgent interest in using Latin phrases, which could only be a good thing. For now, vale.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at June 22, 2008 07:30 AM | TrackBack
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