Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Punk Strunk

The other week I was in Borders, picking up a copy of Beowulf for my wife (ever stopped to consider that there's a connection between Grendel and Norman Bates?), and I came across a little white book on the new release tables.

Why business people speak like idiots

Within a minute, I knew I had to take this book home with me. It's all about the nonsense that is the usual language of business these days, where people have to say "leverage" instead of, say "use". And speaking of using, on Page 45 there is a neat little chart showing that the readability (using the Flesch score) of CEO letters to shareholders correlates quite nicely with how much trouble the company is in. That's news you can use.

It's interesting that, though they take a passing swipe and grammar and usage pedants, part of their message can be traced right back to Strunk & White. Here's what they say:

The third motive for obscurity is business idiots' relentless attempt to romanticize whatever it is that they do for a living. All of this romanticizing keeps the business world from talking about work and instead allows business idiots to pretend to be secret agents and quarterbacks.

And here's what White wrote:

[He] is speaking a language that is familiar to him and dear to him. Its portentous nouns and verbs invest ordinary events with high adventure; the executive walks among ink erasers caparisoned like a knight.

Obviously the standard of adventure has changed with the years. And maybe there's more hope for the message when delivered by Deloitte than by your English teacher.

At any rate, besides recommending this book for the office, I'm looking towards its theological application. Theology is laden with jargon, much of it of highly questionable significance. There's definitely something wrong with saying that God is incomprehensible and then burying this statement in a mound of polysyllabic dogma.