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I have read a few blog posts and Facebook updates about people who see themselves as grammar Nazis and language patrol-guards. Not me. I don’t get mad when I see errors in language use. Two reasons. One, I edit for a living and it doesn’t pay if nobody makes errors. Two, it’s human to have slip-ups. It doesn’t mean the end of civilization if somebody says who’s instead of whose. Depending on the rest of my day, these either amuse me or irk me but not enough to get really angry.

I DO have my own kind of language peeves. And one of them makes me quite mad – this is when sentences make no sense and language is used to build barriers to understanding, to make concepts obscure, to obfuscate. You know the kind of sentences I mean. We have all come to expect this from legal documents. Human beings of average intelligence and language skills have no reasonable expectation of understanding any legal document. It seems written for the sole purpose of baffling us.

This is steadily leaking into other areas of life also. I see this pattern in multiple situations. While I’d like to offer real life examples, I think it’s more fun to check out some of these brilliant spoofs from http://phrasegenerator.com/

Wine reviews:”Nerf Vineyards combines reptillian chili undertones and a sultry crack-cocaine perfume in their 1937 Chardonnay.”

Financial Advice: “The smart investor this season will never insure standardized liability structures.”

Corporate slogans: “We will steadfastly and unceasingly research scalable data implementations for today’s Fortune 500 market leaders.”

Say what? Come again? What on earth does that mean? These are the only possible responses for statements like this, right? While these jokes are exaggerated, they are not far from the truth. And in a collective conspiracy, not unlike the Emperor’s new clothes, we swallow this nonsense.

This makes me angry because these are instances of using language to not communicate, to not explain. Language is ultimately a tool of connection and communication, a way to make sense of the world around us. When language is made impenetrable and used to block real understanding, it strikes me as particularly devious.

So, here’s my advice to all writers. Whether you write a blog or are working on the next American masterpiece:

  • Write with clarity to communicate a thought.
  • Don’t use the thesaurus recklessly.
  • Remember there is a difference between poetic expression and ridiculous contortions of words.
  • If you’re looking to pad your writing, make it descriptive or explanatory. Anything else, your readers are likely to see right through it; and, you’ll lose their respect. You’re not a football announcer with the excuse of looking to fill airtime!
  • Whether you are writing a business document, a short-story or advertising copy, please make it a priority to make sense!
  • And don’t take on the attitude that now you’ll have to write in simple sentences with monosyllabic words to be understood!
  • The challenge is to communicate complexity of thought in a way in which it can be understood.
There is the other side of this equation, of course. If you are a reader, demand that written documents make sense. Do not hesitate to call people on their nonsense, if they hand you material that is incomprehensible. Do not be intimidated by those who choose to wield language as a tool to confuse. If you’re reading stuff that sounds like it came from the gobbledygook generator, it probably did!
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