Churchill on Jargon: The Language as We Mangle It

Churchill on Jargon: The Language as We Mangle It

Jargon and Monkey Motion

A friend sends a let­ter from a plan­ning firm, “reach­ing out” to his home­own­ers asso­ci­a­tion. The plan­ners seek a con­sul­tant con­tract. They promise “awe­some” results. Their pro­pos­als are so full of jar­gon that my friend won­dered what Churchill would make of it. The let­ter con­tains many sen­tences Churchill would have deplored:

“The com­mit­tee tasked us with the plan­ning and com­ple­tion of an inclu­sive and pro­duc­tive process.”

“Gen­er­al under­stand­ing offers guid­ance for the imple­men­ta­tion committee.”

And: “An out­ward and hon­est mar­ket­ing posi­tion achieves awe­some goals…”

“Tasked,” of course, is a new verb, con­vert­ed from the noun “task” by mod­ern Newspeak. Like the noun “effort”—”We are going to effort that.” Such Eng­lish may be famil­iar to read­ers. It is just the kind of boil­er­plate that usu­al­ly pre­cedes a consultant’s bill for $150,000.

“Reaching out” on “awesome” “issues”

Not restrict­ed to plan­ning con­sul­tants is the pop­u­lar term “reach­ing out.” It has replaced the plain, sim­ple, “con­tact­ing,” appar­ent­ly because it’s more touchy-feely. We must vow nev­er to use it.

While we’re at it, let’s also chuck that over-used adjec­tive, “awe­some.” St. Paul’s Cathe­dral is awe­some. A well-made pep­per­oni piz­za is mere­ly “sat­is­fy­ing.” And “issues,” a PC euphemism for “prob­lems,” used for fear of “offend­ing” the prob­lem, can also go.

When peo­ple write jar­gon they are try­ing to hide what they are real­ly think­ing. Or they have not thought at all, and are just try­ing to be trendy. Or they are sub­con­scious­ly show­ing casu­al respect for the recip­i­ent. Moral: Always demand more bona fides from any any­body using lin­go like this.

My friend asks for rel­e­vant Churchill remarks about jar­gon. There are some.

Churchill on Jargon

The writer quot­ed above is like a cer­tain British pre­mier. He “has the gift of com­press­ing the largest num­ber of words into the small­est amount of thought.” (Churchill on Prime Min­is­ter Ram­say Mac­Don­ald, 1933.)

Besides, he “stum­bles over the truth and hasti­ly picks him­self up and hur­ries on as if noth­ing has hap­pened.” (Churchill on Prime Min­is­ter Stan­ley Bald­win, 1936.)

How Churchill would react to such writ­ing is eas­i­ly seen under the Jar­gon head­ing of my quote book, Churchill in His Own Words, aka Churchill By Him­self, the chap­ter on “Writer and Speaker.”

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 1950 (reply­ing to the Labour Party’s Hugh Gaitskell, who was edu­cat­ed at Win­ches­ter):

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.

* * *

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.

The right, short words

Denis Kel­ly, a lit­er­ary assis­tant, helped Churchill abridge his World War II mem­oirs for a one-vol­ume edi­tion. Kel­ly wrote of a “Ger­many out­matched, out­fought, iso­lat­ed, sur­round­ed by supe­ri­or forces, occu­pied and disarmed.”

Mr. Kel­ly told me Churchill blue-lined all of this, say­ing, “The words  you want are: ‘Ger­many was crushed.'”

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