A friend sends a letter from a firm of “planners” to his homeowners association, recommending its services and thoughts on assisting the association—so woolly a document that he wondered what Churchill would make of it.
The letter contains phrases such as: “The committee should be tasked with the planning and completion of an inclusive and productive process….” And: “…general understanding that will then offer guidance for the implementation committee…” And: “…an outward and honest marketing position that will help it to achieve its goals…”
(“Tasked,” of course, is one of those nouns converted to a verb by Modern Newspeak. As in: “We are going to effort that.”)
When people write like this they are either trying to hide what they are really thinking, or have not thought at all. Or they are subconsciously showing they have little respect for the recipient.
My friend thought so, and asked for relevant Churchill quotes about jargon. There are many.
This writer, for instance, “certainly has the gift of compressing the largest number of words into the smallest amount of thought.” (Churchill on Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, 1933.)
He may also have “stumbled over the truth and hastily picked himself on as if nothing had happened” (Churchill on Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, 1936.)
In 1948 (a memorandum to “My colleagues and their staffs”):
Let us have an end of such phrases as “It is also of importance to bear in mind the following considerations…” or “Consideration should be given to the possibility of carrying into effect…” Most of these woolly phrases are mere padding, which can be left out altogether or replaced by a single word. Let us not shrink from using the short expressive phrase, even if it is conversational.
In this Debate we have had the usual jargon about “the infrastructure of a supra-national authority.” The original authorship is obscure; but it may well be that these words “infra” and “supra” have been introduced into our current political parlance by the band of intellectual highbrows who are naturally anxious to impress British labour with the fact that they learned Latin at Winchester. Although we may not relish the words, no one will wish to deny the old-school-tie contingent their modest indulgence in class self-consciousness.
More briefly in 1951 (reviewing a wartime memorandum by Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov):
This grimace is a good example of how official jargon can be used to destroy any kind of human contact or even thought itself.
Denis Kelly, a literary assistant helping Churchill abridge his World War II memoirs for a one-volume edition, wrote in a chapter summary: “Germany was outmatched, outfought, surrounded by superior forces, isolated and occupied.”
Mr. Kelly told me Churchill bluelined this and substituted: “Germany was crushed.”
Moral: Always demand bona fides from any organization with “Planning” in its title.
In fact, the English in this letter is familiar to me. It is just the kind of boilerplate that usually precedes a consultant’s bill for $150,000.