Monday, June 12, 2017

Shall I compare thee…?



Business writers love the word ‘compared’. It’s an easy way of suggesting a relationship between two things without explaining – or sometimes thinking – what that relationship actually is.

Ask yourself what this writer is trying to say:

“Demand in Europe appears to be flat compared with last year”

‘Flat’ can mean many things, including inactive or lacking in energy (as when a fizzy drink goes flat). In business writing it usually means ‘at the same level’. But ‘compared with’ suggests that something is different. The sentence implies both change and no change. If something has indeed changed, there is no clue to the nature of that change. So, based on the above sentence, all of the following could be true:

“Demand in Europe appears to be more stable than last year, when it rose sharply”
“Demand in Europe appears to be more stable than last year, when it fell sharply”
“Demand in Europe appears to be more stable than last year, when it fluctuated wildly, rising and falling sharply”
“Demand in Europe appears to be unchanged from last year”
“Demand in Europe appears to be less than last year”

By using ‘compared with’, the writer has frustrated his own intentions: what happened to demand in Europe remains a mystery. 

Moral: When certain words become a habit, you might not realise that you haven't made your point.

1 comment:

  1. I ran into this a lot in my last couple of years of teaching tech writing at a major university. Most of my students just needed the comparative adjective + "than" ("flatter than last year"), although I agree that explaining what happened last year would be helpful here.

    ReplyDelete