While web-surfing the other day I came upon the following illustration of puffed-up language, credited to Sir Humphrey Appleby, a fictional character in the old British television series Yes, Minister. “Sometimes one is forced to consider the possibility that affairs are being conducted in a manner which, all things being considered and making all possible allowances is, not to put too fine a point on it, perhaps not entirely straightforward.” Translation: “You are lying.”
One click led to another, and I soon found myself on the web page of a software program called HyperSTE [Simplified Technical English]. The program is supposed to help people root out the bureaucratese in their business writing and replace it with something called controlled English. Specifically, the program promises to help users: simplify their grammar and style, use simple verb tenses, use the active voice, use language and terminology consistently, avoid lengthy compound words, and use relatively shortsentences.
That sounds suspiciously like plain ol’ good writing to me. What has the world come to, that people need software to excise the jargon from their writing? And what draws government officials and middle managers to this jargon in the first place? (I have some ideas, which I’ll explore in a future blog.)
I have half a mind to send the software to my MP with a suggestion to deploy it across provincial ministries. But I already know the answer I would get: “We acknowledge receipt of your correspondence and will take steps to forward your advisement to the appropriate channels. However, we are in receipt of a considerable volume of submissions and under the circumstances are unable to operationalize them all.”