Comment: When did English become the second language and jargon our first?

SINGAPORE: I asked several times – is it really so important that we speak and write in good, plain English? We have been running and prospering all these years, why enjoy small things?

We ignore the little things. It is so easy to forget that it was the decision to make English a business and communication language that gives us an economically competitive advantage in the region.

You MUST Lose

Losing is far more than our competitive advantage if we make our sentences suffocated by jargon or insignificant. Some time ago I looked at the label of the show that went "Last year a rescue helicopter was activated for the medical evacuation of the cargo ship crew"I wondered if the robot had written it.

Read: Dear Public Service, what do you mean by jargon? Comment

Later, I discovered that a rescue helicopter was taken to a cargo ship to transport a crew member who had been hospitalized at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. I wished it was written as I was told – in simple words or verbs like "flew" and "ferry". Then I could imagine the scene and feel for a crew member who "was ill".

Gobbledygook harvests these sensory details. It becomes abstract and lifeless when we start to put together a number of nouns such as "there was room for better coordination and harmonization of different activities to ensure a cost-effective economy".

But when we breathe life into our sentences and say, "We could be more effective in better coordinating and harmonizing different activities," we bring them to the ground where life is, and we immediately connect with the reader.

So if we just want to "address civil servants," why do they say "have a more difficult impact on civil servants"In trying to impress on unnecessary big words we lose the goodwill and patience of our readers. I have a few long papers in my closet unread because I could not get the first page.


The last thing we want is to lose the patience of the powers. As a young officer, I constantly reminded them that they were busy, who did not have time for lengthy, frantic and complicated submissions. Forget that our analysis is being read, or our design approved if it has to interwoven with the acorn jargon and gobbledygook.

Sometimes we create our own jargon when we develop a project or plan a campaign, and over time we start using some shortened terms and phrases that we consider appropriate or expedient.

crush the paper ball

Busy people do not have time for lengthy, frantic and complicated submissions (Photo: Unsplash / Steve Johnson)

However, we often use them when writing a document that explains our project to our senior or some committees. It is necessary to clarify clearly what we mean by saying things like "strong involvement of 3P partners","story processing process", "immersion visits", and "session of speakers".

If we want to approve our projects, campaigns or whatever, then we need to make it clear what we are doing.

Albert Einstein once said, "If you can not explain it simply, you do not understand it well enough." George Orwell went on:

If people can not write well, they can not think well, and if they can not think well, the others will think for them.

So if we do not want our bosses to think we can not solve it, write clear, clear and concise English! When did our jargon become our first language? Is it when you enter the workforce?


Something strange happens when an employee is asked to write an e-mail. Suddenly, the simple "we would like to inform you" will become "This email is for updating".

"I've added … to your review" becomes "please find attached … for your kind of exploration"And" we did not see that the book "will change"we have no visibility above the book"Bright" how he would be gone "becomes"due to his travel plan".

Remarks think they need to decorate their minutes with rows like "he asked for the reasons that led to team reservations about the use of XYZ"When short"he asked why the team was not interested in using XYZ"There would be less time for writing and reading.

The officer who consulted me on the paper he wrote told me that he could not take me because his superiors expected him to write down a big word. I think we should send all supervisors and course managers for effective writing and editing.

The women in the office are stressed and frustrated

"The officer who consulted me on the paper he wrote told me he could not take me because his superiors expected him to write in big words to impress." (Photo: Unsplash / jeshoots)

Why can not we speak straight and say, "We encourage all of us to participate" instead of "we support maximum participation"Or say" the competition will take place during the last week of the school semester "instead of"competitions have been matched to the final week of the school semester".

A "we will make it easier to provide data to schools as soon as possible"It is a high language jargon for" helping us to provide data as soon as possible to schools ".


Organizations carry this bad habit in a public forum. Many readers were linked by a spokeswoman who said her agency "rebalanced the regulatory approach with gentle touch … and exercised more supervision to ensure that the needs of both patrons and hawkers are well secured."

She wanted to say that the agency "will be tougher for operators and will watch more closely not to use their customers"? Your credibility is lost when there is a lack of clarity and sound, as if you were embarrassing. In other cases, your effort can be avoided.

We must also sound as if we were issuing a command with "to facilitate access to wheelchairs, commuters may enter MRT stations via the entrance near the taxi"We could gently explain that" there is entry into the taxi booth for wheelchair commuters to easily get to MRT stations ".

More personal and friendly tone reflects sincerity and empathy. People will be more receptive to our views and explanations. Nonetheless, organizations very often say as if they were a computer that chose a line created by a robot. A secret tone alienates the reader.


The organization very often reminds us that it is a computer that throws out a political line created by a robot (Photo: Unsplash / Franck V)

And if you are in a field or profession that has many technical concepts that could explain things with some precision, explain them by the word that a layman can understand. Consumers who can not understand you will go to someone they can.


This leads us to websites where missions, roles and visions of an organization are truncated into two or three broad statements of nobility that sometimes leave a person who is interested in what it all was about.

Vision views should be short and sharp, but they are usually less sharp than short. For example, in this regard,to create a greener and more inclusive public transport system complemented by convenient walk and cycle options from their homes or their destinations"I wonder what it means" greener and more inclusive transport system ".

Which part of the transport system is green? What will it contain that is not yet? And then who are "their"?

As we write our mission statement and vision, it is a good indicator of how clear or crumpled the rest of our site is. People access websites to find information. They want to know more, understand, check and clarify. So much is lost when the standard language becomes jargon, code, and phrases.

Calling spade and spade will also help us avoid jargon. Let the pens be pens and not "stationery", cars without a driver are cars without a driver instead of "autonomous vehicles" and lifts are lifts instead of "vertical transport".

Visitors to the IAA can be taken to a car rotation without a driver

"Autonomous vehicles" or just "without a driver"? (Photo: AFP / Daniel Roland)

So I'm very glad she learned from a former colleague that her department was launching an Instagram campaign to promote plain simple English, starting with words she wanted to replace, such as an interlocutor, concurrently, delimited and vis- a-vis.

I would add consciousness, attention, knowledge and stakeholders. I hope it will be inspired by other departments in her ministry, then in the civil service and other private sector organizations to get rid of jargon.

Yes, small things are important. I really believe that we will be more effective and productive if we write what we mean and that means what we write. As Ernest Gowers wrote in his book Common Words:

To be short, to be simple, to be human.

Judith d 'Silva was an active member of Speak Good English Movement. It was unambiguous at the Public Administration College and HDB station managers.

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