Corporate English

By Maeve Maddox

Thanks to reader Nick Corcodilos for sharing a link to an especially mind-numbing bit of English prose. I won’t publish the link he sent me, but I will give you an excerpt:

Leveraging the unique capabilities of Case Based Reasoning (CBR) to research, [this company] has created a comprehensive mirror pathway for personalized medicine incorporating the standardized processes required to infuse into pharmaceutical research, development and lifecycle pathway. 


I looked for other examples of this kind of writing and, alas, found plenty:

Strategic management research on the development of new capabilities has largely overlooked the process whereby initial capabilities are transformed by the firm to create new capabilities.

Whether the reader is new to diversity work or wishes to learn how to further leverage existing diversity initiatives with other strategically important business priorities, this book provides a comprehensive blueprint for navigating the complex and changing nature of situations involving diversity.

We are committed to an organizational capability and mindset which guarantees rapidly delivering exceptional customer and stakeholder value by negotiating and making the appropriate tradeoffs among schedule, quality, cost, functionality, technical limits, and resources.

“[…] reflects a striving for excellence in higher education that has been made more inclusive by decades of work to infuse diversity into recruiting, admissions, and hiring; into the curriculum and co-curriculum; and into administrative structures and practices. It also embraces newer forms of excellence, and expanded ways to measure excellence, that take into account research on learning and brain functioning, the assessment movement, and more nuanced accountability structures. […] is a multi-layered process through which we achieve excellence in learning; research and teaching; student development; institutional functioning; local and global community engagement; workforce development; and more.  It is the active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity in ways that increase one’s awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication, and empathic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within systems and institutions.”

I suppose the meaning of these texts can be worked out, but why write something that has to be puzzled over? I don’t mind struggling with a text that was written a couple of hundred years ago, but when it comes to contemporary writing, I won’t waste my time.

Writers need to worry when Latinate abstract nouns outnumber function words in their writing. An annual rereading of Orwell’s essay on language wouldn’t hurt:

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. — “Politics and the English Language”

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18 Responses to “Corporate English”

  • Cecily

    Here’s a link to Orwell’s full essay, “Politics and the English Language”. The 6 points near the end are the most quoted.

    http://www.k-1.com/Orwell/index.cgi/work/essays/language.html

    There is some good advice for decoding (or writing) language intended to deceive (politics, sales etc), but I don’t think it’s generally applicable to creative and some other sorts of writing – and nor did Orwell, judging by his own works.

  • Cecily

    Oops, sorry. I’ve only just noticed that the blog post does include a link to Orwell’s essay. (I blame the effect of hay fever on my eyes.)

  • Richard

    You do know that you can just search part of the extract in Google enclosed in parentheses and it comes up with the website …

    It’s as good as a link really.

    Still, hopefully they’ll take notice now!

    Keep up the good work.

  • Phil Dragonetti

    That kind of writing betrays the hand of a person who is not being forthright. Would you buy a used car from a person who writes like that?

  • Cecily

    There is certainly plenty of that sort of gobbledegook around, most of it, like this example, promotional material that is designed to look swish, have some impressive-sounding jargon, but not actually be read.

  • Tiffany

    I agree with Cecily, most of this writing is on promotional material to look good at a brief glance, but never really be paid attention to. I wasn’t confused reading through these paragraphs, as I was amused at the writer’s attempts to sound more professional and educated. To quote an author who knew both how (and when) to go on and on for pages and when to be succinct – Brevity is the soul of wit.

  • thebluebird11

    I’ve seen a lot of that kind of verbiage around, and I thought I was the only one who couldn’t understand it. I’m glad I’m not the only one who is disgusted by the obfuscation and frustrated trying to sit and deciper what they really are trying to say. It’s almost as if they took “advertising Greek” and just cut and pasted it somewhere to fill a gap, not caring that it’s totally incomprehensible, thinking that using a lot of big words and/or “buzz words” will make it all good.

  • Maeve

    Richard, I didn’t know about the parentheses thing. COOL. Thanks.

    Note on that last lengthy quotation: it’s from a university site. it makes me think of the Melville line from Chapter 132 of Moby Dick:

    “Who’s to doom, when the judge himself is dragged to the bar?”

  • Cindy Cotter

    One of my favorite examples was the phrase “water-oriented recreational resource,” which meant “lake.”

  • Rod

    I hate euphemisms nowadays a cleaning person at my work is known as general service or areas personnel any sales person is called an advisor junior, senior or master depends on how deep he has either gotten into his role taking pride of it or If he’s mentally submitted
    boy in Spanish is niño but it’s spelled in official documents with @ niñ@ so they can include girls that is niña in Spanish how wrong is this!
    and handicapped people are people with different capabilities

  • Precise Edit

    Ah, the writing of academics and researchers, so full of sound and fury (furry?). We use three main strategies to “fix” this type of writing:
    1. Change nouns and adjectives into action verbs,
    2. Identify the rhetorical subjects and use them as the grammatical subjects, and, most importantly,
    3. We ask, “What does this mean in simple terms?” and then write the answer.

    Perhaps the central problem for these writers is their purposes do not align with readers’ needs. If the writers’ purposes are to communicate, they have not succeeded. However, if their purposes are to show-off their ability to write complicated text (perhaps in an attempt to seem wise and knowledgeable), they have succeeded.

    One of my favorite quotes, relevant to this topic:
    “Everything that can be thought of at all can be thought of clearly; everything that can be said can be said clearly” (Wittgenstein).

  • Judaye

    This is an academic style of writing that is taught at the college level. People who write in this way believe that they write and read at a higher level than other english speakers. Boy, I really love that Orwell quote. I may be using in the future.

  • Charlie

    Enjoyed this! Am so tired of writing that goes around and around the point and only comes near it. By the time I get through one of these windy or inky paragraphs, I’ve forgotten what the first part was about. A sad waste of time.
    What is wrong with employing the KISS method?
    Keep It Simple S–pid (or Silly).

  • Nelida K.

    Hi Maeve,

    I am by profession a certified translator of English, native in Spanish. Can you just imagine what a headache this is for us translators? This is a sure way to send us running to the nearest available shrink…..

  • Ann

    I’m a recent subscriber to DWT, which I really enjoy reading each morning.

    I think the George Orwell essay should be compulsory reading for all writers, whether journalists, copywriters, authors, etc.

    And perhaps tested on its content!

  • Peter

    Richard, I didn’t know about the parentheses thing. COOL. Thanks.

    There isn’t any parentheses thing. Google tells you that parentheses are completely ignored in searches.

  • Cecily

    I presume Richard meant quotation marks.

    If you Google:
    cecily jones
    you get every page that has cecily OR jones.
    But if you Google:
    “cecily jones”
    you only get pages that have an EXACT match of that specific sequence of characters.

    Another really useful tip is the minus sign to exclude a word. So, if one Cecily Jones is a golfer and you’re not interested in her, you would Google:
    “cecily jones” -golf -golfer
    and only get pages about Cecily Jones that don’t mention golf.

  • Precise Edit

    I don’t agree that this style is taught at the higher education level. However, this style may be rewarded, leading to the same result.

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