Opinion: Speak clearly


“It is not like we’re not trying to make sure that bad stuff doesn’t happen by not doing things that we used to do.” Hmm. We’re not sure what is not meant to happen … or to happen … or to not, not happen. It is all so confusing. In a time where clarity of communication is most important, why are so many continuing to cloud the air with doublespeak, jargon and insider lingo? 

The negative, especially the double negative, is, well, doubly troubling in doubly troubling conditions. What do we need to do? What is the standard? When do we need to do it? The truth of the matter, whatever the “truth” may be – and whatever the “matter” may be, for that matter – is too often intentionally construed to prevent good-intentioned folks from understanding what the heck is going on. 

Not intended to attack him, as many others will likely follow, but if the mayor of New York City is calling for “required shelter in place,” what is he saying? Would it be better to say martial law? Would we understand that expression any better or worse? Are they the same? How are they different? Could they mean the Marshall Law? Noted 19th-century British economist Alfred Marshall said, “There are no economic tendencies which act as steadily and can be measured as exactly as gravitation can, and consequently, there are no laws of economics which can be compared for precision with the law of gravitation.” What? It is probably not this one. 

A speaker’s desire to manipulate an audience with a convolution of language risks considerable misunderstanding from the listener. Perhaps, that it is the intention. Anyone attempting to sell anything to anybody is prone to play the word game. Should we accept it as unavoidable or demand clarity?