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ALARMS AND DIVERSIONS FOR THE THINKING PERSON

Forum File

Saturday, March 29, 2014 - 12:01 am

The reading list

“Where does jargon come from? After all, no one is taught to express themselves like this in school – so where does the rot set in? 'I think a lot of it comes from people writing to impress rather than to inform,' says Tony Maher, general manager of the Plain English Society. 'They don't stop to consider who might be reading this stuff. They just think their bosses will be impressed by as many long words as they can put in – and of course it makes no sense at all. The worst offenders as far as we are concerned are legalese and planning documents. At the moment I've got one Planning Notice on my desk which consists of 600 words and no punctuation at all.'

“However maddening this may be, we should beware of going the other way and making everything too plain. Then we might lose the ambiguity that English excels in. One of the great pleasures of living in Britain is that you get occasional headlines like, 'Lesotho women make good carpets.' You also get unimprovable delights such as the Department of Health's advice to new mothers: 'If a baby does not thrive on raw milk, boil it.'

“As American president Theodore Roosevelt found, paring down language can go too far. In 1906 Roosevelt founded something called The Simplified Spelling Board, which suggested – among other things – changing 'bureau' to 'buro,' 'enough' to 'enuf' and 'though' to 'tho.' So taken was Roosevelt with their recommendations that he ordered the Government Posting Office to use the new spellings. However, the reaction – and the ridicule – was so extreme that he soon backed down.”

From “Speak plainly: Are we losing the war against jargon?” at telegraph.co.uk

A quiz

What do historians say was probably the bloodiest battle in history?

Wisdom of the ages

“One of the true tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.” – Arnold Glasgow

Current wisdom

“We're not searching for a needle in a haystack — we're still trying to define where the haystack is.” – Australian Air Marshal Mark Binskin, on the search for the missing Malaysian jetliner.

Quiz answer

The Battle of Stalingrad (1942-43), which resulted in 800,000 to 1,600,000 casualties.

Snob words

catharsis (kuh-THAHR-sis), n. – the purging of emotions; relieving of emotional tensions, as in: “A stiff drink was the only thing that could provide catharsis for the editorial writer after a session with the mayor.”

Today in history

On this date in 1852, Ohio adopted the 10-hour work day for women and children under 18; sorry, guys

Now you know

According to RandomHistory.com, by the time an average child enters kindergarten, he or she will have witnessed 8,000 murders on television.