Archives/ Monthly Archives/ September 2015

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In praise of plain

I’ll keep this simple. No corporate speak or abstract gibberish. That’s the plan anyway. We all claim to be in favour of plain language, but, in truth, precious few of us end up practicing what we preach. There’s a comfort in retreating behind the vagaries of corporate tautology when nothing better strikes us. It’s laziness. At the same time we feel a compulsion to impress our clients and peers by embracing the very latest marketing hogwash. As if they’d think less of us if we resisted it.

Earlier this year I was assigned the task of scriptwriting a CEO’s address for a town hall meeting of staff, a large percentage of whom were non-native English speakers and who were unlikely to appreciate unduly vague business babble of any kind. I can’t recall a job I enjoyed more.

I’m assuming such simple addresses were in evidence throughout this week’s International Plain Conference in Dublin. As The Irish Times reported, one speaker went so far as to suggest overly complex language could put people’s lives at risk (he was talking about pharma communications). Another contended that inaccessible language by financial institutions exacerbated the mortgage crisis in the US.

The paper also provided a mouth-watering hit list of terms which the British civil service have chosen to ban in the interest of clarity. Some classics here to taunt your verbose colleagues with: one delivers pizza, not concepts like improvements or priorities. We don’t commit or pledge, we do it or we don’t. We don’t deploy unless it’s military or software, and we don’t foster unless it is children. Dialogue is another no-no, instead we speak to people. Finally, unless it unlocks something, it is not key, it’s just plain old important.

If, like me, you all too often succumb to the temptation to pepper your proposals with these or other similarly vacuous gems, there’s relief in the thought that by their nature these words are faddish. In this particular moment in time, we put up with them but don’t encourage them. Going forward, we’ll be blissfully rid of them.