[This entry originally appeared on Clare Lynch’s blog, goodcopybadcopy]
The title of this post is one of George Orwell’s rules of writing in his much-quoted 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language. And it’s a rule that business writers would do well to take more notice of.
Take the following sentences, all from the Financial Times, though none exclusive to that publication:
One of the reasons cited for the creation of the bank was to add to the growing Islamic banking universe.
Heathrow should concentrate on providing London’s business community with what it really wants.
We consolidated our presence in the healthcare arena.
The survivors of the UK’s once broad industrial base are in strong shape.
Did you spot them? Those unnecessary words that have crept in and attached themselves to other words, creating a woolly, pompous-sounding phrase, and making the sentence longer than it needs to be? In case you missed them, here they are:
“banking universe” (instead of “banking”)
Increasingly, professionals of all kinds seem to want to refer to their industry as a “universe”. So, for example, we also have the “retail universe”, the “pharmaceuticals universe” and so on.
But bankers seem particularly prone to this verbal habit. Perhaps it’s a way of reminding themselves of their (now rather wobbly) status as the “masters of the universe”. After all, why should you be content with working in the banking world when you can dominate the whole universe?
But, as well as introducing unnecessary wordage, isn’t there something rather embarrassing about a phrase like “banking universe” when the simple word “banking” does the job?
Isn’t it just a little self-important to see your industry as a microcosm of the cosmos? As a thing of complex beauty that can only be truly understood by an intellectual elite? As something that in its own special way embraces time, space and all created things?
Yes, “banking universe” is more than a little bit pompous and hyperbolic. And where pomp and hyperbole go, hubris surely follows – as recent events in banking have surely so brutally shown.
“business community” (instead of “business”)
Whenever I see the word community used in this way, I have to stifle a skeptical smile.
Business community? You know, those homely business leaders who spend their days swapping recipe ideas over the garden fence, lending each other cups of sugar, and helping out with the babysitting rota?
Is anyone convinced by this touchy-feely nonsense? Yes, they’re a group with a shared interest and common goals – but a shared interest in and a common goal of – making money. And anyway, isn’t a successful economy supposed to be driven by competition between businesses, rather than community?
It has to be said, the “business community” isn’t the only fake “community” out there. Anyone who’s ever been a member of the “academic community” knows that the final year of a PhD is devoted to mastering the delicate art of backstabbing.
Still need convincing not to use this silly phrase? Perhaps you should join the “criminal community”? (Yes, some people do actually say that).
“healthcare arena” instead of “healthcare”
Like “banking universe”, another ridiculously self-important phrase here. In this case, it’s designed to conjure up images of noble contest and great heroics performed in front of a gripped audience.
Is that really what working as a paper pusher in the NHS is like? (For, surely, it’s only the bureaucrats who feel compelled to use a phrase as pompous as this. Doctors and nurses are too busy saving lives.)
“Healthcare” alone would have sufficed.
“industrial base” instead of “industry”
Here, I’ll leave commentary to Mr Norman Glass of Crodyon, Surrey, who spotted this increasingly common phrase in an article in the FT earlier this year. In a letter to the editor, he asks: “What exactly is an ‘industrial base’? … Is it something different from ‘industry”? More ‘basic’, somehow? Please do tell”.