Words, when used properly, convey ideas clearly, simply and truthfully.
When they are not, victims of war become “casualties,” or “collateral damage.”
“Negative patient outcome” replaces a death. Prisons become “correctional facilities,” and dying family pets are not destroyed but are instead “put to sleep.”
In the municipality’s case, a budget shortfall, or deficit, is now an “unfavourable variance in program revenues.”
George Orwell, in his essay Politics and the English Language, writes that “the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.”
Indeed, it concerns us all.
To illustrate his point, Orwell takes this passage from Ecclesiastes – “I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all” – and puts it into “modern” English:
“Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.”
Yikes. Orwell wrote that in 1946 – 74 years ago.
Have we since improved our quest for clarity in language, and therefore, thought?
We have not, but must.
Unless of course, “unfavourable variance in program revenues” really is preferable to deficit, or budget shortfall.
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