It’s getting to that time of the year when people start thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. For anyone working in business, here’s an idea: let’s try and make 2010 the year of plain English. A good way to start would be to read George Orwell’s 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language. Orwell understood how language could be used a weapon against the powerless, and how jargon and clichés are used to hide meaning, not clarify it. He offers six timeless rules for effective communication:
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
I am not 100% on number 6, and here’s another one for people in business:
7. Try and express your thoughts in one breath.
MBA-speak started by infecting the workplace but has tragically made its way into sport (losing teams now “lack accountability”) and even the home (KPI’s in the kitchen!).
- Why do we have to touch base to get our ducks in a row when we could just meet?
- Why must we synergize our learnings going forward, when comparing notes would do fine?
- Why wouldn’t a busy person save time by saying “I’m busy” instead of due to cascading workflow, I am lacking in requisite bandwidth?
- Why reach out when you can just make a call?
- Why can’t we leave a meeting with things to do, rather than take-home actionables?
People are hungry for clarity and authenticity. In every part of life, let’s commit to using language to amplify meaning, not bury it.