Saturday, March 8, 2008

The undoing of gobbledygook

I'm sure we've all run into examples of gobbledygook from time to time. Forms to be filled out that are impossible to understand: regulations that are impossible to follow because no-one can figure out what they mean: academic theses, dissertations and articles that are incomprehensible to all except those with advanced degrees in Martian circumlocution: and so on.

Well, help is at hand from the Plain English Campaign. Their purpose in life is to help individuals and organizations, public and private, to clarify the language they use in communication by getting rid of excessive verbiage and making things as simple as possible.

I particularly like their awards - although recipients may feel differently, of course. The "Golden Bull" award goes to the worst examples of written language. In the beginning recipients were sent a pound of tripe through the mail, but this posed obvious problems of hygiene and sanitation: so the award was changed to a small statue of a bull. As an example, in 2000 the Luton Education Authority won a "Golden Bull" award for describing one of its activities as:

"a multi-agency project catering for holistic diversionary provision to young people for positive action linked to the community safety strategy and the pupil referral unit."

In case you were wondering, they were talking about go-kart lessons for kids.

There's also the "Foot In Mouth" award for public figures who make baffling pronouncements. Famously, former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld won this award in 2003 for the following statement:

"Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know."

Oh, absolutely. Quite so, old chap. I couldn't agree more. Hear, hear!

(What was that again???)

If you've ever despaired of such language (or if you want to make your own writing simpler and more readable) click on the link to their Web site and spend a while browsing. The award-winners of years past are hugely amusing, and you'll learn a lot.

On the other hand, I have a lot of fun responding to gobbledygook with my own version of it. If I receive an obfuscatory, verbiage-ridden communication, I send one back in precisely the same form. An excellent resource for such responses is the Web Economy Bulls*** Generator. This magnificent tool generates meaningless drivel with the click of a mouse button. Some examples:

"Transition impactful metrics"

"Deliver cross-media experiences"

"Benchmark front-end technologies"

"Synergize frictionless deliverables"

"Maximize intuitive platforms"

"Visualize bricks-and-clicks intermediaries"

Using the above, if I wanted to say that I'm writing this blog in order to convey my thoughts to my readers in the hope of interesting them, it would look like this:

"I visualize bricks-and-clicks intermediaries in order to synergize frictionless deliverables using benchmark front-end technologies so that I may deliver cross-media experiences to my readers and maximize their intuitive platforms."

I love this tool! I didn't have to hunt for any of the phrases I used in that sentence - the Generator is "generic" enough that almost all its output is usable "as is". Click on the link and try it for yourself. If you're ever at a loss for how to respond to the latest politically-correct verbal diarrhea, it never fails!


1 comment:

Billll said...

I had a politician lay one on me once. When asked about traffic congestion, he responded with" Well we can't just pave our way out of this, now can we?"
This technique is to give an answer so blindingly stupid that the questioner is momentarily stunned speechless, allowing the answerer to escape, convinced that his brilliant insight has impressed the rubes once again.
In this case, no new roads had been built, nor old ones expanded in about 25 years. The snappy comeback would have been "How do you think we got IN to this problem in the first place?"