Brevity is the soul of…

3 Jan

Shakespeare wrote that brevity is the soul of wit, but it is also the soul of clarity and understanding. Tautology – saying the same thing in different words – simply occupies time or, in a newspaper, valuable space, repetition is simply boring, and using unnecessary words is simply – unnecessary.

Politicians are well known for skirting around questions, particularly when faced by Today’s or Newsnight’s presenters. One of the classic ruses is to repeat the question, as in – Q: “Mr so-and-so do you believe that the majority of immigrants…?”; A: “Do I believe that the majority of immigrants…?”. What the listener wants to hear is a simple “yes” or a “no” followed by a justification for the answer. Do the people who are guilty of this think that listeners are too stupid to remember a question for more than a nano-second or are they simply taking up as much time as possible in a short interview to avoid having to answer it? No prizes for the correct answer.

I continue to despair at the style of language that is increasingly used in official documents. A recent letter to local councils said: “Tendering has negatively impacted on the provision of…[it poses several] key threats”.

“Impact” is a noun, not a verb (yes, I know I’ve said that before and will, no doubt, say it again), “provision” is unnecessary, and “key” is something to open a lock. Clear and simple: “Tendering has had a negative effect on [whatever it was]…and has created several important problems”.

A letter from Dame Barbara Hakin, COO of NHS England, read, “The concept of calling for advice first is essential for patient core outcomes and we are committed to ensuring 111 plays its full part”. Why is calling for advice a “concept”? Oh yes, someone’s discovered that “concept” is a synonym for “idea”, even if it’s not an appropriate synonym in this context. “Outcome” – rather than “result” – is rapidly becoming one of the words that makes me jump up and down with rage (and what does “core” add?), and if 111 is playing its part it is, by definition, playing its full part. Clear and simple: “For patients to achieve the best result it is a good idea if they call for advice first, and we are committed to ensuring that 111 plays its part in that.”

Could it please be everyone’s new year’s resolution to think before they speak or write, and to keep it simple (and there’s no question mark at the end of that request because it’s a rhetorical question).

Today’s picture

It seems to have been raining for 40 days and 40 nights, even though St Swithin’s day was months ago. I took this picture on South Uist, in the Outer Hebrides, where the weather changes from hour to hour.

Image

           

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