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You Said What? 

Rosie Right

Things are not getting easier for those of us who value simple and understandable sentences. More than 15 years ago Richard C. Wydick wrote a book "Plain English for Lawyers." It's a good bet he's been living on the proceeds since. The latest edition was published in 1998. Alas, lawyers and businessmen, and perhaps all of us, have not taken Wydick's lessons sufficiently to heart. On Sunday, Feb. 6, the New York Times ran an article headlined "Defending English From Assault on the Job." Written by John Hendren, the story says: "A new breed of corporate linguists warns that an assault on the English language is intensifying in the American workplace. …The culprits … are television, the informality of the Internet and schools that sometimes emphasize computing over reading." Apparently, there are experts making a good living teaching business people how to stop writing gibberish and make their meaning clear to those who have to read their memos. The worst of the examples in the Times was culled from a kidnapping police report: "Subject did abducted woman without no illegal right." We don't normally see such a horrible collection of words, but it's a good bet that we can think of writing that has left us wondering what the sentences meant. And we have seen words whose meanings are not clear. Could you possibly guess what "suppression of assets" means? This is, according to "Doublespeak" by William Lutz, military-speak for "bombing everything from enemy soldiers to sewage plants." Once you begin to notice it, jargon surrounds us. "Plain English for Lawyers" gives this example of bureaucratic jargon: "public service research dissemination program proposals." What in the world is that? Frederick Crews, in The Random House Handbook (sixth edition, 1992), says, "Jargon is specialized language that appears in a nonspecialized context, thus giving a technical flavor to statements that would be better expressed in everyday words." His example: Don't write, "My liquidity profile has been weak lately." Do write, "I have been short of cash lately." If this is the sort of writing we have to endure, how are we going to adjust to the new high-tech language that is rapidly coming online (to coin a phrase)? Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825), letter (1707 Summit Ave, Suite 201, Richmond Va. 23230), fax (355-9089) or e-mail repps@styleweekly.com.
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