OK, I am guilty. I have either written or said “it rose to a crescendo” at some time in the past. Thanks to an article in The New York Times and kindly reproduced by Singapore’s The Straits Times, I now know that one cannot rise to a crescendo, the word explains the process not the destination. It reminded me of how sloppy we are getting in our writing, myself included.

In July, the UK Government, bothered by the use of words that seem to obscure rather than clarify, issued a Style Guide that included a list of over 20 words which they insist bureaucrats avoid when creating policy documents or government announcements. No buzz words or jargon are permitted. The list included advancing, deliver (unless it is pizza) combating, empowered, deploy, foster (unless its children).

Those old enough will remember the ‘Yes Minister’ series on TV where Sir Humphrey Appleby, the permanent secretary, excelled in stringing together words that gave the impression of a detailed explanation but actually avoided any real communication. You can see the humorous series on YouTube.

Avoid words in your copy or presentations that hide the meaning rather than clearly communicate. The military are good at this – they substitute for plain words. Army spokesmen use collateral damage rather than announcing civilians were killed. An enemy soldier is neutralised, not shot dead.

Beware of words like actualise, differentiate, collaborate, facilitate and so on. Do not write human capital when you mean staff or employees. Nor write down-sizing when you mean firing staff. Typing is now word processing, and instead of measurement we demand to see the metrics. It is so easy to fall into the trap.

I’ve written before on the misuse of the word “media”. This word should be applied to newspapers, television channels, radio stations and, now online publications. A film-making course cannot be media studies, any more than a library should be renamed a media centre. The Magazine Publishers Association of Singapore is renaming itself the Media Publishers Association of Singapore. Sorry guys, you publish magazines no matter if it appears on a printed page or digital screen. You cannot publish a “media”. I would have thought this trade association above all others would know better.

One woman who knows how to use words, and is fearsome as an editor, is our regular blogger Adrianne LeMan. Do take time to read her comments on the use of English language.

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