The Irascible Professor SM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"What I'm telling you is there's too many junk lawsuits suing too many doctors."....  ....George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., May 10, 2007.

Commentary of the Day - July 10, 2007: Gobbledygook, Drivel, and Tripe, Oh My!  Guest commentary by Erik Deckers.

As we bring closure to the annual calendar, it behooves us to examine the various linguistic gaffes that occurred over the past 12 month period.

See what I did there?  In one sentence, I've already ticked off the folks at the Plain English Campaign.  They're the language watchdogs who campaign against "gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information."  (For the record, what I said was, "As the year ends, we should look at poor language from the past 12 months.")

The Plain English Campaign monitors good and bad language usage.  They give out the Golden Bull Awards -- awards for "the worst examples of written tripe" -- to people who offend their sense of plainspokenness, as well as several other awards for clear language usage.  This year, they gave out seven Golden Bulls and 20 awards for clear language.

One of this year's seven Golden Bull recipients is Australian writer and academician Germaine Greer.  She won for a recent arts column in The Guardian (London), in which she said, "The first attribute of the art object is that it creates a discontinuity between itself and the unsynthesized manifold."

Personally, I don't see what the problem is.  I've long been an outspoken critic of unsynthesized manifolds, and the damage they can do to our roads, rain forests, and family structure.  Besides, who doesn't know the heartbreak of art object discontinuity?  They have pills for it now, but it still carries a stigma for many people.  But the Plain English Campaign is steadfast.  Spokesman Dave Smith (a nice, Plain English name if I've ever heard one) told Agence France-Presse, "if I wanted to know more about art and read something like that, it would put me off."

(For the record, "put me off" is British slang for "turn me off" or "deter me."  Five point penalty to Dave for using non-universal slang.)

But Dave's minor slip pales in comparison to some of the other Golden Bull recipients, including corporate recruiters Wheale, Thomas, Hodgins PLC, who floored me with this little doozie:

"Our client is a pan-European start-up leveraging current cutting edge I.P. (already specified) with an outstanding product/value solutions set.  It is literally the right product, in the right place at the right time. . . by linking high-value disparate legacy systems to achieve connectivity between strategic partners/acquisition targets and/or disparate corporate divisions.  The opportunity exists to be the same (i.e. right person etc. etc) in a growth opportunity funded by private equity capital that hits the 'sweet-spot' in major cost driven European markets."

Translation: "New company needs new employee.  We have money."

Unfortunately, some people never learn.  This is Wheale, Thomas, Hodgins' second Golden Bull Award.  They received their previous one in 2001.

But the PEC is more than just giving Golden Bull Awards to people who wouldn't know Plain English if it bit them on the butt.  They also highlight the best of spoken gobbledygook by giving the Foot In Mouth Award.  This year's winner is supermodel and personal assistant beater Naomi Campbell, who said, "I love England, especially the food.  There's nothing I like more than a lovely bowl of pasta."

I'll leave jokes about whether a single noodle constitutes a "bowl" of pasta for another time.  I'm more curious about when pasta became an English dish. Fish and chips, yes.  Bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes), absolutely.  Linguine, Fettuccine, and vermicelli, uh-uh.

Campbell could not be reached for comment, as her phone had recently been broken by her assistant's head.

But her legendary temper notwithstanding,  Campbell should be proud of her gaffe, as she managed to beat out President George W. Bush with his entry on the six-party talks with North Korea: "One has a strong hand when there's more people playing your same cards."

I may not know much about poker, but I do know that if someone has my cards, my odds of winning are dramatically decreased, not increased.  Unless I'm cheating.

Unfortunately, plain writing isn't easy.  It takes a lot of skill.  Watch a master carpenter at work, and you'll see what I mean.  He makes the most simple tasks look easy -- hammering nails in just a few strokes, or cutting wood laser straight with a handsaw.  Meanwhile, the novice builder bends nails, cuts crooked, and can't understand why it's all so hard.

It takes practice.  Just like the master carpenter who has built houses all his life, you need to practice writing in Plain English every day.  Use simple words, remove unnecessary words, and write in short sentences.

You'll discover that as you hone your skills on a recurring, if not daily basis, you will have become proficient at the otherwise-elusive simple sentence structure, and can easily demonstrate your mastery of the written word.

(Translation: If you practice a lot, you'll get good.)

2007, Erik Deckers.
Erik Deckers is a freelance writer from Indiana.  He writes a weekly humor column that is published in a number of regional newspapers.  It also is available on the World Wide Web at

The IP comments:  Thanks for the translations Erik!  The examples cited in Erik's article are only the tip of the iceberg.  If you really want to read some opaque writing, just pick up one of the tomes from any of the postmodernist philosophers.


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© 2007 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.
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