Bureaucratic language is the art of using big words that often obscure what you mean. So, really, it's more artifice than art.
Some call this "bureaucratese," and I was surprised to find that word in the dictionary. Merriam-Webster defines it as "a style of language held to be characteristic of bureaucrats and marked by abstractions, jargon, euphemisms, and circumlocutions."
The "circumlocutions" part is my favorite. That's defined as "the use of many words to say something that could be said more clearly and directly by using fewer words."
Now I know I am an anti-circumlocutionary.
Someone unnamed from the University of Florida's Entomology and Nematology Department wrote a summary about what bugs him about bureaucratic language. It said such language makes the writer sound important but makes the writing harder to understand.
The summary advises using "methods" rather than "methodology." It says using "something is" will be far more effective than using "something at this point in time is." It says never to use "utilize," because the word "use" is what people say.
Near the end, the writer stops giving examples of words to avoid, fearing readers would latch on to them. Good technique.
I searched the internet -- parts of it, anyway -- to find examples of bureaucratese.
In telling the story behind the demise of a Virginia newspaper, Manassas News & Messenger, the Washington Post quoted the chairman of the newspaper's owner, BH Media Group. He said the Manassas newspaper was suffering from "negative financial momentum."
I can't be positive, but I believe that means the paper was losing money.
A Business Insider story mentioned some stocks "have a lot of downside risk." The Financial Times defines "downside risk" as how much the value of an investment may decrease. Isn't that simply what "risk" is?
Incredibly, "upside risk" is also a thing. That is how much an investment's value is expected to increase. Which doesn't sound like a risk at all.
Recent wire syndicate reports detail how the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs lowered its estimates for the nation's first-quarter gross domestic product, which is the value of what is created in goods and services. An economist was quoted as saying, "With the downward revision to real spending in January, the contribution from consumption is likely to be more modest than previously thought."
Could that mean that people spent less than we thought they would?
The Federal Reserve website had a funny line:
"The use of mobile phones to access a bank account, credit card or other financial account continued to increase in prevalence among adults in the United States last year."
The phrase "continued to increase in prevalence" is the same as saying "increased." But it has a few more words.
Later in the story, we learn about the "underbanked." Underbanked? When I tried to find that in Merriam-Webster, I was asked whether I meant to search for underpants. No, I did not.
Apparently, part of the population is underbanked. That means people have bank accounts, but they also use payday lenders, check cashers, auto title loans and pawn shops. And the "unbanked"? They don't have bank accounts at all. Wow.
This one is from more than a decade ago, but it still works for me. The PG&E National Energy Group was working on negotiations among a few groups, and this what the company president said:
"While the challenges are complicated and multifaceted, we are confident that there is a path of resolution that can work for all parties involved. However, working through and resolving the various issues is going to require substantial time."
I know, the guy didn't ask me how to shorten those sentences, so I'll just do it for fun.
"We have a lot to figure out before we can all agree. That may take awhile, but we'll do it."
In earlier columns, I've listed many long, bureaucratic phrases that can be replaced with shorter ones. Here are a few from recent stories and how they can be more clear:
trending downward: decreasing or going down
reputational damage: bad reputation or bad name
adverse effect: harm
open a formal investigation: investigate
experienced setbacks: had problems
visual display: display
appears to have little connection: doesn't seem connected
sent a reassuring message to: reassured
presided over: led
funding an initiative: paying for a project
described a range of likelihoods and outcomes: tried to predict
opposition continues to significantly outpace support: More people oppose the project than support it.
Sources: University of Florida, California State University at Fullerton, Financial Times and other sites already mentioned.
ActiveStyle on 02/26/2018
Print Headline: Say what is meant concisely