First, the Pope appears not to like adjectives – at least not “authentic” which I confess I quite like. He certainly doesn’t like the qualifying “authentic Christian”
“We have fallen into the culture of adjectives and adverbs, and we have forgotten the strength of nouns … Why say authentically Christian? It is Christian! The mere fact of the noun ‘Christian’, ‘I am Christ’ is strong: it is an adjective noun, yes, but it is a noun.
“The communicator must make people understand the weight of the reality of nouns that reflect the reality of people. And this is a mission of communication: to communicate with reality, without sweetening with adjectives or adverbs.”
So far, so Orwellian…in the best sense of George Orwell’s classic guide to clear expression and thinking - “Politics and the English Language” – written in 1946.
But I was bit taken aback by another statement which runs as follows -
“But what should communication be like?” he said. “One of the things you must not do is advertising, mere advertising. You must not behave like human businesses that try to attract more people … To use a technical word: you must not proselytise. It is not Christian to proselytise.”
I’m sure a lot of missionaries will have something to say about that!
It was in fact only a couple of months ago that the newly-appointed Leader of the House of Commons, one Jacob Rees-Mogg set out to his staff come basic rules of language. He doesn’t want to see the following words or phrases – “hopefully”, “due to”, “meet with”, “got”, “equal”,
I actually have a lot of sympathy with people who get upset by some words which have crept into our language in the last few decades - although Moggs' selection is just a little bit....eccentric,,,There are lots of others I would rather have in my sights
Thirty Six years before Orwell, Ambrose Bierce was another (American) journalist whose pithy and tough definitions of everyday words, in his newspaper column, attracted sufficient attention to justify a book “The Devil’s Dictionary” whose fame continues unto this day.
A dentist, for example, he defined as “a magician who puts metal into your mouth and pulls coins out of your pocket”. A robust scepticism about both business and politics infused his work
And at the millennium, I started to include in my project documents a little glossary questioning the jargon being used by consultants in the “institution-building” business which has become “Just Words - a sceptic’s glossary and bibliography for the fight against the pretensions and perversities of power”. That contains a lot of references to other gems such as The Devil’s Financial Dictionary by Jason Zweig (2015)
In 2007, the Local Government Association felt it necessary to recommend that 100 words be banned (not the same thing as book burning!!), And two years later it had expanded the list to 200 words -. Some of the words have me baffled (I have not lived in the UK for 30 years!) but I find this is a quite excellent initiative. The offensive words included -
And what about coach, mentor, drivers, human resource management, social capital, tsar ???? Anyway – a brilliant initiative (if you will forgive the term)
And in 2009 a UK Parliamentary Committee actually invited people to submit examples of confusing language which they then reported about in a report entitled Bad Language!
The final gem which hit me this morning was this great piece on the semi-colon and the art of punctuation