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Home Features Words that should be banned from government writing
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PEOPLEDr Neil James
COMPANIESPlain English Foundation
PARTNERSPlain English Foundation
TAGS Communications, Plain English, Plain English Foundation, plain language, Dr Neil James, writing
When it comes to language, we all have our pet peeves: words that are overused, misused, or just plain abused. But should we go a step further and ban the worst offenders?
Of course, any talk of banning words immediately draws accusations of “dumbing down” the linguistic glory of the likes of Shakespeare and Churchill, Austen and Twain. I’m talking about the opposite: avoiding the inefficient, unclear and downright ugly words our great writers would never have put on paper.
Winston Churchill, for example, exhorted his nation to “fight on the beaches”, not to “engage in hostilities in the intertidal zones”. Shakespeare’s Hamlet pondered whether “to be or not to be” rather than “to give consideration to the identified options of being”.
Yet government writing today still dresses in a complex linguistic garb because this has more “gravitas” — even when it says the same thing as a simpler alternative.
The words to watch for fall into four categories.
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Dr Neil James is executive director of Plain English Foundation, which has trained more than 16,000 public sector staff in plain English and redeveloped thousands of documents and templates. Neil regularly promotes plain English and ethical communication in the media and at @drplainenglish. (© Plain English Foundation 2016. You must attribute us if you quote from this work.)
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I loathe all goverments’ passive prose.
“It was decided that…” or “A decision was made…”
Really? Who decided? This is not my style fascism nor grammar pedantry. When a writer uses active prose it tells the reader WHO did WHAT. Government agencies and their staff frequently appear to sing about governance and accountability but they do not dance to it.