By Harry Phibbs
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Hurrah for Alan Duncan, the Minister of State at the Department of International Development. The Daily Telegraph reports that he has issued a memo, which has been published on the Department's internal website, prohibiting civil servants from using “language that the rest of the world doesn’t understand”.
“The Minister of State would prefer that we did not ‘leverage’ or ‘mainstream’ anything, and whereas he is happy for economies to grow, he does not like it when we ‘grow economies’.
“Nor is he impressed with the loose and meaningless use of ‘going forward’, either at the beginning or the end of any sentence. Thus we do not ever ‘access’, ‘catalyse’, ‘showcase’ or ‘impact’ anything. Nearly as depressing for him is reading about DFID’s work in ‘the humanitarian space’.”
Mr Duncan would like to meet someone, rather than "meet with" them. He dislikes sentences which start ‘Grateful for your…’ lacking the prefix ‘I would be…’.” In general, however, brevity is encouraged with bureaucrats urged not to "attempt to fill the page with every conceivable fact that can be retrieved by cut and paste.”
The memo adds:
“All our communication must be immediately explicable to the non-DFID reader. Clear language conveys clear thought. Its poor use suggests sloppy thinking."
That is the serious point. There will always be some debate about grammar. That is what makes Fowler's Modern English Usage such a lively volume. But when we get to a level of impenetrable jargon, Ministers should protest as a matter of duty – not just as an eccentric personal whim.
If civil servants are not obliged to write clearly, they are not obliged to think clearly. That prevents us from being well governed.