Sunday, June 22, 2008

Standing For Clear and Precise Language

In Zen, it is said that pointing to ultimate reality cannot be done with words. Language refracts reality, and opens up issues of translation, omission, and manipulation.

It is a powerful medium, and when used with care and honesty it's not a bad one. It is typically used carelessly, however; or worse, those with the skill use it to deceive, conceal reality, or evade responsibility. "Mistakes were made." "I'm 70 years young." "We will eliminate redundancies in our workforce."

This morning I read that British government workers have gotten a memo from the Local Government Association, which has authority over local bureaucracies, to avoid doublespeak and instead speak plainly and directly to people.

I would paste the story, but I have a heard a rumor that AP does not consider this fair use, so here's a link to it.

Specific recommendations included refraining from buzzwords and management-jargon. "Sustainable communities" could mean anything. "Revenue stream" can be summed up with the word income. Residents shall not be referred to as "customers" (as the word does not accurately describe their relationship to government) and vague use of the catchy "stakeholder" is also discouraged. To quote from the memo: "Why do we have to have 'coterminous stakeholder engagement' when we could just 'talk to people' instead?"

Indeed.

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