What he hated above all was jargon – partly because it was impossible to understand, and partly because it demeaned people by making them feel stupid. The more monolithic bureaucracies became, Gowers felt, the more they reinforced their remoteness by using impenetrable language. He suggested three golden rules that everyone in government and business should abide by: “Be short, be simple and be human.”
If a better maxim exists for institutional writers, I haven’t heard it. A recent Telegraph (UK) feature profiled Sir Ernest Gowers, who sounded the alarm against corporatese in 1948 by publishing Plain Words. Now his great-granddaughter is taking up the fight and updating The Complete Plain Words for the 21st century.
This article is well worth the read, if only to be reminded how long jargon and glittery language has plagued us. I was also struck by this nugget of wisdom by the great Sir Winston Churchill:
“Broadly speaking, the short words are the best,” Churchill said, “and the old ones when short are the best of all.”