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5 March 2015

Superlative verbosity?

Written by: Alex Eeles, Principal Writer at Edelman


When was the last time you had to re-read (or re-write) something because it didn’t make any sense?

Perhaps it was an email that asked you to ladder up, drill down or get your ducks in a row. Maybe it was a nonsensical quote from a politician or business executive that used 50 words instead of five. It might even have been a new social acronym that you’ve been gamely pretending to understand for the last few weeks.

Whatever it was, the constant and baffling need for us to translate our own language back into itself has never been greater – nor more ironic.

After all, we live in a modern, interconnected society where communication is key, so surely it follows that language should currently be enjoying its finest hour. Yet instead, our conversations find themselves increasingly under attack from an army of jargon, marketing speak, corporatese and verbosity.

Instead of a global network of unfettered communication, the result is a world where confusion is king and disaffection is rife. I mean, if we can’t understand what a person, brand or organisation is saying, we’re unlikely to actually do whatever it is they want us to.

Only the other the day, someone’s out of office email reply instructed me to ‘reach out to’ a colleague in their absence. Unfortunately the person they suggested was too far away to touch, so I just spoke to them instead. On another recent occasion, I was told that we should ‘go after the low-hanging fruit’ although thankfully I was able to politely decline the offer having just taken lunch.

The examples are myriad and wide-reaching, and for those of us working in communications, it is our duty to fight the battle for clarity. To remember that plain can be beautiful and to tell stories that are dynamic and impactful but crucially, easy to understand.

But how you may ask, do we do it? To start with at least, we listen to Mark Twain… 

Plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English―it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.

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