Friday 4 May 2007

Plain language? Where?

A few weeks ago I had a bit of a rant about plain language, or rather the lack of it. Amongst other things this was prompted by a very important person saying at a conference that it:

“should provide much-needed leverage to enable the country to upscale its present operational threshold through taking advantage of the latest concepts.”

And I, like most people, had absolutely no idea what that meant. If you read it a few times you eventually realise that what he was trying to say was:

“we will learn new things and get better”.

Would any of us have disrespected him for being so direct?

My problem is that so much of the language we hear from VIPs seems largely designed just to show off. It is the sort of language we hear from people who have been on expensive courses, usually funded by taxpayers like you and me, where they learn how to impress us with fancy language rather than with what we really need: new ideas.

Now clearly I don’t expect this sort of “Look at me, aren’t I clever?” behaviour to disappear overnight just because I mentioned it but I was surprised to see so much of it in the papers in the last couple of weeks.

To begin with there was an enormous advertisement entitled “Service Procurement Notice” from, I think, something to do with the European Union in conjunction with the Ministry of Local Government, to help in their efforts towards “strengthening the Capacity for Community Development”.

Apparently one of the purposes of their project is to “strengthen the capacity of the MLG/Councils to address community development as a key performance area by offering a framework for implementing a change process”.

After reading this even more times than the previous bit of showing-off language I think what they are saying is that they want an expert who can help them to “be more adaptable so we can help people better”.

Well, I think that is what they mean. Perhaps.

Later in the advertisement it stated that no more than one application can be submitted “by a natural or legal person (including legal persons within the same legal group) whatever the form of participation (as an individual legal entity or as leader or partner of a consortium submitting an application).” And it went on, and on, and on. Frankly I could not be bothered to count the number of words in the advertisement but I suspect there were between 1,500 and 2,000 of them wasted on something that I imagine any half-decent writer could have cut down to about a tenth of that.

The usual subject of jokes about being long-winded is the legal profession. They have a reputation for overdoing the heretofores and whatsoafters but they seem to be slipping down the league of wofflers. Now it seems to be pretty much anyone with a big desk who feels the need to use 100 words when 20 would normally do.

But then I remember that Mmegi readers are pretty smart people. Maybe we can all see through the forest of words and make out whatever meaning is hidden in there? Well, I thought that until I read the announcement last week announcing that the Local Enterprise Authority and the Botswana Training Authority had signed a Memorandum of Understanding, no doubt destined to be called the LEABOTAMOU. The first sentence read as follows:

“There is seamlessness bottom-line between organisational mandates and maybe even worse through the eye of a customer”.

Where should I begin? One confusion of a noun and an adjective, four bits of redundant jargon, one completely meaningless sentence and a one-eyed customer. That is such a magnificent achievement. Unlike the quotes earlier this one completely stumps me. I genuinely have absolutely no idea what it means. In fact I’m convinced that it actually doesn’t mean anything at all.

And this was regarding a “Memorandum of Understanding”? Don’t they see the irony?

Perhaps when it was printed they missed out a few words? When you read the rest of it you see that it is, in fact, in keeping with the rest of the text. It rambles on for another 600 words explaining how much the remits of the two august and respectable bodies are actually the same thing. So perhaps they should have saved some space and just said:

“We do pretty much the same thing so we should merge into a single body. Goodbye.”

So here’s our free tip for the week. If you are a consultant, Managing Director or even a journalist and you find yourself using words or phrases like synergy, burning platform, best practice, critical mass or paradigm then stop, walk outside your office or conference room, give yourself a firm slap in the face and then go an buy a thesaurus at the nearest bookshop. Remember that there over 1.5 million words in the English language. Why don’t we start using them creatively and stop trying to show off?

This week’s stars!

  • Modise at Game Stores at Game City in Gaborone for great warmth and attention. Our reader was moved to buy a bicycle on the spot as a result of his service!
  • Tebogo at Riverwalk Mascom for really trying hard to fix a customer’s problem.

No comments: