Regular readers may suspect I have a severe case of cultural cringe. I bang on so often about the wonderfully simple language used in the succinct reports of the British government and parliament that I even tire myself. Yet I must do so again, because the contrast between Whitehall and Canberra has never been so unflattering for us.
A year ago, the British government launched its online style guide. It is a single webpage that takes just a few minutes to read. The guide is neither a prescriptive nor a proscriptive list; rather, it describes how government should communicate, ''the whole ethos of Gov.uk; it's a way of writing''.
Britain's Civil Service is taking clarity so seriously that its departments now employ ''heads of clear English''. The officer who has that job in the Health Department, Mark Morris, wrote earlier this year: ''Across government, our sentences are too long, our words too complex, and our phrases stuffed with management jargon, technical language and acronyms. It's enough to bring people out in a rash.''
Alas, the Australian government has no equivalent to the Gov.uk style guide; we have only the unwieldy, 550-page Style Manual, which was last updated 12 years ago. Bizarrely, there are no electronic copies of the manual, which may help to explain why most public servants ignore it. To see how far behind Whitehall we now lag, you need only compare the size of government reports released in each country.
Morris likes to cite Roman scholar Publilius Syrus, who wrote two millenia ago: ''Speech is the mirror of the soul; as a man speaks, so he is.'' If that's so, I fear many Australian public servants' souls are doomed to meander endlessly through purgatory's fog, searching for the point they were trying to make.
Don't be one of the condemned. And don't die waiting for a readable Style Manual to be published. Below are just a few of the words British civil servants have learned to do without. You can banish them, too:
- agenda (unless it's for a meeting)
- collaborate (use ''working with'')
- commit/pledge (we need to be more specific - we're either doing something or we're not)
- deliver (pizzas, post and services are delivered - not abstract concepts like ''improvements'' or ''priorities'')
- deploy (unless it's military or software)
- dialogue (we speak to people)
- disincentivise (and incentivise)
- drive (you can only drive vehicles; not schemes or people)
- facilitate (instead, say something specific about how you are helping)
- impact (as a verb)
- in order to (superfluous - don't use it)
- key (unless it unlocks something. A subject/thing isn't ''key'' - it's probably ''important'')
- leverage (unless in the financial sense)
- one-stop shop (we are government, not a retail outlet)
- progress (as a verb - what are you actually doing?)
- promote (unless you are talking about an ad campaign or some other marketing promotion)
- strengthening (unless it's strengthening bridges or other structures)
- transforming (what are you actually doing to change it?)
Markus Mannheim edits the Informant.