Monday, May 14, 2012

Killer communications

And the award for simple, direct English goes to … The Ministry of Defence.

I know, it's hard to believe. These are the same people who talk about "collateral damage" (killing civilians) and "friendly fire" (killing your own side). And yet, when they need to get a message across and the PR people aren't watching, they can be admirably direct.

Yesterday I was killing time in Southend-on-Sea, so I drove out to the mud flats near Great Wakering. That involved crossing an MoD firing range that's open to the public at weekends. As you drive in, there's a sign warning you not to touch anything you might find, 
"or it might explode and kill you"
I can't think of a clearer, more concise way of putting it. No "ignition hazard" or "potentially unsafe ordnance"; just a direct statement of the risk, with the blunt addition of "you" to stress that the danger is personal rather than abstract. I would have taken a picture, but there was an equally strong warning not to do that. These people have guns. It's best to do what they say.

The poet John Donne said, "Each man's death diminisheth me, for I am involved in mankind," and yet the thought of my own death has a particular significance. I'm less engaged by "a potential risk to members of the public", but "you might die" gets my full attention.

Moral: There is eloquence in brevity.


  1. Admirable direct and concise communication.

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