Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A tour of the Black Museum

Editors of business reports are constantly turning pretentious wankery into something approaching English, in the vain hope that the readers will understand what the writer was trying to say. Sometimes, the process of disentangling a sentence reveals that the writer himself didn't know what he was trying to say.

This blog began life two years ago as an extension of my Twitter feed, which only existed so I could curate the nonsense I sometimes encounter and hopefully share it with anyone who'd appreciate it.

But Twitter doesn't keep tweets forever, so I've collected some of them here for my own enjoyment. You're welcome to enjoy them too. Sometimes I wonder at the thought process that turns what must have been a simple idea into something verbose and vague. If you have any insight into what makes intelligent, articulate people turn their ideas into verbal molasses, do let me know. Sadly, all these are genuine.

"Scrapping levels have been non-existent to date in 2013"
"No ships have been scrapped in 2013 so far"

"[The company's] balance sheet was impacted by an adverse variation year-on-year in taxation of $183 million in 2012"
"[The company] paid $183 million more in tax last year"

"Only a handful of owners exist in the present scenario having these types of vessel due to the higher costs incurred in building such vessels"
"Few owners have this type of vessel because they are more expensive to build"

"client and subject matter expert outreach for publication materials"

"due to the relatively high average price of x as compared to y
"because x costs more than y" 

"On a more generalised basis it should not be forgotten that the decision is not necessarily an easy one to execute"
"The plan is difficult to execute"

"leasing companies have been financially impacted to a lesser extent"
"the finances of leasing companies have not suffered as badly"

"due to the prevailing price differential vis-a-vis…"
"because it costs more than…"

"our assessment is that it is likely
"we believe"

"key internal stakeholders"

"at least $7,500-8,500"
"at least $7,500" 

"The company has reached out with a request"
"The company has asked"

"an estimated $16 million on an annualised basis
"about $16 million a year"

"negative price revision"
"price cut"

"investors will have their sentiments negatively impacted"
"investors will be deterred"

"relatively strong when compared to"
"stronger than"

"higher levels of support staff"
"more support staff" (that was a Radio 4 journalist, for God's sake)

Postscript: A colleague read this post and asked whether anyone really wrote this badly. I thought it tactless to point out that he'd provided two of these examples himself.

Moral: Don't dress up your thoughts in fancy language at the expense of clarity


  1. "on an annualised basis"? Sheesh.

    The world would be a happier place if we had fewer lawyers and accountants and more writers and editors.

  2. When did "[adj]-er than" become replaced by such convoluted constructions as "relatively [adj]-er compared to"? It seems like I'm seeing "when/as compared to" a lot lately.

    1. We've lost so many good words from the language. It's sad to see 'than' going the same way. I'm amazed at how many writers never use it.

    2. The more I think about it, the more I believe this may be due to writers shying away from sticky subjects (perhaps subconsciously) by dressing them up in flowery language, as described in Orwell's 'Politics and the English Language'.

  3. You should review StyleWriter - the plain English editor on this forum. It cuts most of the bull out of business, legal and academic writing.

  4. It really does make you wonder whether they are trying to share information, or to hide it. It also brings to mind the way police officers speak when talking to the media; plain English, it isn't.

  5. I think there's a commonly held belief in PR agencies that this sort of language lends ideas greater gravity. A friend of mine took on some PR work after he was made redundant, for which I was happy to be able to offer him a platform for a feature piece. He delivered in short measure exactly what I had suggested, only to have it edited by the company he was acting for, such to replace nearly every sentence with a leaden expression of moribund cliché. The reaction of the company when I turned it down was one of incredulity and the suggestion that I didn't know my own job.