Friday, 27 February 2015

Jargons, Journalese and slangs

This is another piece from my old blog media newsletter.  I am reproducing here because it is a great learning exercise for more effective communication.
Friends Jargon, Journalese and slang are the words we should avoid. Many international publications have their style guide which tells journalists about publication's stand about different aspects of language to be used. Here is style guide of Economist about these three very important aspects of language which reporters and writers generally tend to ignore.
Avoid it. You may have to think harder if you are not to use jargon, but you can still be precise. Technical terms should be used in their proper context; do not use them out of it. In many instances simple words can do the job of exponential (try fast), interface (frontier or border) and so on. If you find yourself tempted  to write about affirmative action or corporate governance, you will have to explain what it is; with luck, you will then not have to use the actual expression.
Avoid, above all, the kind of jargon that tries either to dignify nonsense with seriousness (The appointee...should have a proven track record of operating at a senior level within a multi-site international business, preferably within a service- or brand-oriented environment, declared an advertisement for a financial controller for The Economist Group) or to obscure the truth (We shall not launch the ground offensive until we have attrited the Republican Guard to the point when they no longer have an effective offensive capacity—the Pentagon's way of saying that the allies would not fight on the ground until they had killed so many Iraqis that the others would not attack). What was meant by the Israeli defence ministry when it issued the following press release remains unclear: The United States and Israel now possess the capability to conduct real-time simulations with man in the loop for full-scale theatre missile defence architectures for the Middle East.
Try not to use foreign words and phrases unless there is no English alternative, which is unusual (so a year or per year, not per annuma person or per person, not per capita; beyond one's authority, not ultra vires; and so on).
Journalese and slang
Do not be too free with slang (eg, He really hit the big time in 1994). Slang, like metaphors, should be used only occasionally if it is to have effect. Avoid expressions used only by journalists, such as giving people the thumbs upthe thumbs down or the green light. Stay clear of gravy trains and salami tactics. Do not use the likes of. And avoid words and expressions that are ugly or overused, such as the bottom linehigh profilecaring (as an adjective), carersguesstimate (use guess), schizophrenic (unless the context is medical), crisiskeymajor (unless something else nearby is minor), massive (as in massive inflation), meaningful, perceptionsprestigious and significant.
Politicians are often said to be highly visible, when conspicuous would be more appropriate. Regulations are sometimes said to be designed to create transparency, which presumably means opennessGovernance usually means government. Elections described as too close to call are usually just close.
Try not to be predictable, especially predictably jocular. Spare your readers any mention of mandarins when writing about the civil service, of their lordships when discussing the House of Lords, and of comrades when analysing communist parties. Must all lawns be manicured? Are drug traffickers inevitably barons?
In general, try to make your writing fresh. It will seem stale if it reads like hackneyed journalese. One weakness of journalists, who on daily newspapers may plead that they have little time to search for the apposite word, is a love of the ready-made, seventh-hand phrase. Lazy journalists are always at home in oil-rich country A, ruled by ailing President B, the long-serving strongman, who is, according to thechattering classes, a wily political operator—hence the present uneasy peace—but, after his recent watershed (or landmark or sea-change) decision to arrest his prime minister (the honeymoon is over), will soon face a bloody uprising in the breakaway south. Similarly, lazy business journalists always enjoy describing the problems of troubled company C, a victim of the revolution in the gimbal-pin industry (change is always revolutionary in such industries), which, well-placed insiders predict, will be riven by amake-or-break strike unless one of the major players makes an 11th-hour (or last-ditch) intervention in a marathon negotiating session.
Prose such as this is freighted with codewords (respected is applied to someone the writer approves of, militant someone he disapproves of, prestigious something you won't have heard of). The story can usually start with the words, First the good news, inevitably to be followed in due course by Now the bad news. A quote will then be inserted, attributed to one (never anindustry analyst, and often the words If, and it's a big if... Towards the end, after an admission that the author has no idea what is going on, there is always room for One thing is certain, before rounding off the article with As one wag put it...
Perhaps even more wearying for the reader is the trendy journalist's fondness of vogue words and expressions. Some of these are deliberately chosen (bridges too farempires striking backkinder, gentlerF-wordsflavours of the monthGeneration Xhearts and minds;$64,000 questionssouthern discomfortback to the futurethirty-somethingswindows of opportunitywhere's the beef?), usually from a film or television, or perhaps a politician. Others come into use less wittingly, often from social scientists. If you find yourself using any of the following words, you should stop and ask yourself whether (a) it is the best word for the job (b) you would have used it in the same context five or ten years ago, and if not why not:
address (questions can be answered, issues discussed, problems solved, difficulties dealt with)
care for and all caring expressions (how about look after?)
environment (in a writing environment you may want to make use of your Tipp-Ex, rubber or delete button)
famously (usually redundant, nearly always irritating)
focus (all the world's a stage, not a lens)
individual (fine in some contexts, but increasingly used as a longer synonym for manwoman or person)
overseas (increasingly used, and often wrongly, to mean abroad or foreign)
participate in (take part in—more words but fewer syllables)
partner (“Take your partners for the Gay Gordons!” by all means, but dancing together does not necessarily mean sleeping together—just as a sleeping partner is not necessarily a lover)
process (a word properly applied to the Arab-Israeli peace affair, because it was meant to be evolutionary, but now often used in place of talks)
relationship (relations can nearly always do the job)
resources (especially human resources, which may be personnelstaff or just people)
skills (these are turning up all over the place—in learning skills, thinking skills, teaching skills—instead of the ability to. He has the skills probably means He can)
supportive (helpful?)
target (if you are tempted to target your efforts, try to direct them instead)
transparency (openness?)
Such words are not wrong, but if you find yourself using them only because you hear others using them, not because they are the most appropriate ones in the context, you should avoid them. Overused words and off-the-shelf expressions make for stale prose. 

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