Business communication is suffering from a bad case of obesity.
To a degree we are victims of history. Post-conquest, Norman French was the language of government and the law for centuries. Plenty of time to develop our taste for Gallic gourmet language and its mouth-watering Latinate filling.
But why, six hundred years later, are we still in thrall to a three-syllable sandwich? Are we so embarrassed by a healthy diet of good old Anglo Saxon? It seems we are. We’re a nation of Hyacinth Bouquets using ‘nice’ polite words because they are so much better than those ‘oiky’ small ones.
In my research for a series of writing workshops I found, time and again, the advice to use Anglo Saxon words in place of the Latin wherever possible. It makes for more direct, personal, clearer writing, which has greater impact. So why don’t we do it more often?
Local councils have often been criticised for using jargon. But you read any typical company e-mail and you’ll see things ‘commencing’ instead of starting (“Eastenders commences at 8.00pm; don’t be late!”) And don’t even get me started on maximising, optimising, accommodating, requirements. (Is ‘needs’ so weak?).
Now I’m not demonising Latinate words, just pleading for a balanced diet. We all need to think more about who we are writing to, what we want to say and why. Serving a four course dinner to someone who only has time for a sandwich is a recipe for indigestion.
If you want to lose some verbal flab, why not take a look at the Plain English campaign: http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/