Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Why plainspeak matters.

In an earlier blogpost, I had mocked the phrase "thought leader" as yet another silly example of jargon. In her stylish way, Lucy Kellaway has done the same in a delightful commentary for The Irish Times:

Apple loses its way with words as gibberish takes over


PM Lee, who also noticed the Irish Times piece, extolled his ministers and officials to speak and write plainly:

SG Prime Minister calls for clearer comms strategy


He asked for examples. You bet! They are so easy to spot. Take these examples from an ST page one story today (June 17):

In plainspeak, what is "intermittently impacted by a connectivity issue"? And what is "experienced issues"? Why can't the DBS spokesman simply say "faced problems"?

What is worrying to me is that ordinary Singaporeans lack the confidence to identify and ridicule such empty verbiage, and what is even more worrying is that Singaporeans happily adopt such gibberish. Hence, no one squirms at:

going forward
taking it to the next level
levelling up (no, you can level down but you raise, say, standards. income, skills, etc)
detrain (a favourite among SMRT public relations folks)
customer experience
new transport player, new arts player, etc

This is just a short list that comes off my head. There are so many other examples.

Some forgettable civil servant wrote a forgettable piece in a Hong Kong newspaper which prompted political commentator Catherine Lim to write in response -- unnecessarily, in my opinion -- in a letter to ST Forum (June 16):

By the time I reached the end of Ms Lim's piece, I still did not know if she also strongly believes in a democracy that has parliamentary checks and balances on the government (she did not say "government of the day").

Anyway, her piece prompted a letter from one Eugene Tan:

In this writer's case, I find his conclusion very abrupt and unfinished. So ""Singaporeans know who to trust in difficult times"... why leave the reader in a state of suspension over who is the "who" (it should be "whom")? And how do we "take a good and trustworthy government for granted"? What exactly must "we" (which is unspecified) do/have done to take/have taken for granted or NOT take/have taken for granted...?

Come on, you are not writing an Agatha Christie novel.

I think the bottom line in good communications is (a) not to use jargon, or if it is occasionally necessary to do so, to explain such words; and (b) not to fudge one's arguments.

Plainspeak is not just about the choice of words. It is also about not fudging when making one's points or making/finishing an argument.

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