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Clearing Muddy English

©04 the media desk

At some point in a future day job meeting the Desk is going to unleash the following on its unsuspecting co-workers….

"There is an unavoidable conflict of terminology in naming the classes Class and Instantation. Instantation is not itself a real instance but a class (namely, the class of all real instances). Likewise, Class is not a class of real instances but a class of classes (namely, the class of all classes of real instances). Instantation could be renamed Class and Class renamed Type to avoid this. In that case, the members of Class would not be classes and the members of Type would not be types."

      Oh Yes.

      The Desk is just sorry that it didn't write that one.
      It's from a 1989 document put out by STC Technology Limited. And judged as a 'winner' in a contest of gibberish and nonsensical writing by the Plain English Campaign for their 25th Anniversary earlier this year.

      The Desk is thinking about applying to the group as some sort of associate American-English member. Even if it will never earn their Crystal Mark for doing things in easily understood, jargon free, simply written English. They are working against the over-complication of works that should be simple, the proliferation of clichés and catch phrases, and other out and out badly worded communications.
      One of the things the Owner and Webmaster of the Media Desk site makes an effort to do is to avoid clichés and run on sentences and overly technical language, unless overly technical language is called for in a technical article which needs technical wording or maybe a cliché is simply the best way to get a point across when nothing but a cliché will do but usually there is something that will work much better than a cliché or some heavy technical language in a run on sentence where shorter more easily understood….
      Sorry, couldn't resist the gag.
      One of the Desk's early advisors on newspaper writing told it to "Get to the point then stop" when writing news and sports. Commentary and features were one thing, news was something else. And for the most part, the Desk has tried to live by that when covering events and then writing them up. If it is trying to convey the flavor of the event, it does take a little more effort than just hitting the Five W's and walking away [For Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. See "The Desk Writes About Writing"].

      One of the things the Campaign does is translate standard bureaucratic nonsense into something that almost makes sense.

"Your enquiry about the use of the entrance area at the library for the purpose of displaying posters and leaflets about Welfare and Supplementary Benefit rights, gives rise to the question of the provenance and authoritativeness of the material to be displayed. Posters and leaflets issued by the Central Office of Information, the Department of Health and Social Security and other authoritative bodies are usually displayed in libraries, but items of a disputatious or polemic kind, whilst not necessarily excluded, are considered individually."
"Thank you for your letter asking permission to put up posters in the entrance area of the library. Before we can give you an answer we will need to see a copy of the posters to make sure they won't offend anyone."

      They offer this service to businesses and governments and boast one of the largest editing groups in the English speaking world. And while they admit they don't work cheap, they make sure what comes out isn't your typical high level gibberish.
      And they have the 'gobbledygook generator'. Which can crank out phrases like: "Forward-looking companies invest in knowledge-based modular paradigm shifts" on demand.
      The Desk isn’t sure, but it thinks its Day Job 'Best Practices' guidebook came right out of the generator.

      So all in all, The Desk is all behind the Plain English Campaign and would like to get something like it rolling in the USA.
      But since the Desk is poor, as well as cheap. It'll just have to plug them and move on.

      It's the contests that get your attention. Including the Golden Bull award and some other divisions that remind you of the Darwin Awards, except these are for use, abuse and misuse of the language.
      Richard Gere won a celebrity division 'Foot in Mouth' award for this one a couple of years ago:
'I know who I am. No one else knows who I am. If I was a giraffe and somebody said I was a snake, I'd think 'No, actually I am a giraffe.''

      Another category's nominee goes like this:

'ANY Executor for the time being hereof being a Solicitor or other person engaged in a profession or business shall be entitled to charge retain and be paid in priority to all other bequests hereby made all usual professional or other charges for business done by him or his firm in relation to proving this my Will and obtaining Probate thereof and in the execution or otherwise in relation to the trusts hereof and also his reasonable charges in addition to disbursements for other work and business done and all time spent by him or his firm in connection with matter arising in the premises including matters which might or should have been attended to in person by a trustee not being a Solicitor and any Executor shall be entitled to retain any brokerage or other commission which may be received personally or by such Executor's firm in respect of any transaction carried out in the administration of my Estate and the trusts thereof for which the Executor or his firm is in the normal course of business allowed or paid brokerage or other commission notwithstanding that the receipt of such brokerage or commission was produced by an exercise by such Executor of powers vested in him hereby or by law.'
      You gotta love it.
      The Desk read that one about three times and still isn't sure of exactly what it's talking about. It thinks it means the Executor can do pretty much what he damned well pleases for the duration and there isn't anything you can do about it.
      Must have been written by lawyers, who are often retained as Executors.

      Also included from past years are a few 'honorable mentions' including: "I cannot fetter the exercise of my discretion by determining in advance of the exercise of such discretion how I might exercise that discretion." Which came from an unnamed public official.
      How do you fetter an exercise anyway? Unless it might involve a racehorse.

      In any case.

      The Plain English people are working tirelessly to spread the simple word, and are making inroads. At least a few British politicians have started to take arcane expressions and word usage out of bills and official documents. Some doctors are starting to use clear language in medical directions and more and more companies are making sure that safety warnings and instructions are written where they have something to do with the product they're about.
      The Desk loves directions to assemble things. Most recently it was trying to hang a storm door at a friend's house and both the Desk and its friend swore the directions were written by somebody who had never seen the door itself. Which is possible. The door was made on mainland China. The instructions were printed in Taiwan. And the whole thing was packaged in the US. And we suspected the helpdesk under 'For Assistance Call' was probably in India.
      Would those directions have won a prize from the Campaign? Probably not, they were clearly written, but they missed some key points in the process.
      Back to the topic at hand.

      A 2004 entry submitted by a confused customer of an ISP:

"We have no way of sending e-mail messages with your address on your computer and you receiving the error message back on your computer as the error message would have returned to us as the computer we sent it from would have had the virus!"

      The 2004 Golden Bull awards will be announced on 6 December.
      One previous nominee was from the US. Which shows the Colonies are well represented.
'Traditional value chains and relationships in the plastics industry are under the threat of being deconstructed by e-commerce activities. New business models are emerging to more effectively manage the flow of mission-critical information among value chain participants, which in turn is creating new value propositions for customers.'

      The final word on the matter was found at the bottom of the gobbledygook generator page.

      In the Plain English Campaign's own plain English:

"please write to inform rather than to impress!"

      And so, the Desk shall try.


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