It intrigues me that, in a country that eschews the imperialist jingoism of a bygone age, so many of the authors of public documents are drawn to expressing themselves in what can most charitably be described as Shakespearean English. Less charitably one might dub it colonial English.
There is no doubt that such authors will be aghast, even feel insulted, by these observations. Regrettably any defensiveness on their part would soon wear thin.
Phrases to denote a sum of money, much loved by accountants, have entered the lexicon of such authors. So it is not good enough, for example, simply to say $532,371 but to spell it out, word for word.
And, just in case they feel they are addressing an innumerate and illiterate moron, they add the figures in brackets. Not only is this old fashioned, it is paternalistic.
Then there are the protagonists of using-several-or-many-words-when-only-one-or-two would suffice. I referred to this in my last blog when I wrote about Victorian practices being alive and well in modern English.
Who are the guilty parties? Invariably they can be found in the ranks of public servants, often the corporate world and almost inevitably in the NGO sector. That’s more or less everywhere!
English is a wonderful and dynamic language. It lives. Sometimes I even wonder whether it breathes!
That is why in South Africa, and in many other countries where English is the lingua franca, it can readily absorb words from other languages which then become common usage.
It is also a language that can be written to evoke strong emotion and portray great beauty. But when writers complicate the language by using old fashioned techniques, or long words because they “sound better” (and my experience is that often the users of such words apply them in a manner that distorts their meaning), they confuse their message and thus their audience.
So what to do? Stick to the tried and trusted method which one of the greatest communicators of the 20 century, Winston Churchill, did without fail: keep it simple, and don’t offend your audience with irrelevant complexities.
The next six-day Organisational Communication course which will teach you how to keep it simple will take place from 15 to 17 October and 5 to 7 November. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 011 487 0026 for more information.