Saturday, May 16, 2009

Murky Language

Peggy Noonan takes on the murky language of bureaucrats:
The indecipherable language of government has actually become dangerous to the well-being of the nation. As the federal government claims ever greater powers, its language has become vague to the point of meaningless and meaningless to the point of menacing.

The other day I was watching "Morning Joe" on MSNBC, and Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, came on from Washington to talk about health care. A reporter on the set, Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times, asked a few clear and direct questions: What is President Obama's health-care plan, how would it work, what would it look like? I leaned forward. Finally I will understand. Ms. Sebelius began to answer in that dead and deadening governmental language that does not reveal or clarify but instead wraps legitimate queries in clouds of words and sends them on their way. I think I heard "accessing affordable quality health care," "single payer plan vis-à-vis private multiparty insurers" and "key component of quality improvement." In any case, she didn't answer the question, which was a disappointment but not a surprise. No one answers the question anymore.

I suspect, though, this kind of obscurity isn't limited to government; corporate finance-speak suffers from the same lack of clarity. Is it purposeful? Maybe. Most people don't write or speak well and don't realize that they don't. They hid behind this kind of language because, well, it sounds like they're saying something when they aren't.

Speaking the truth is hard but speaking it clearly isn't.

1 comment:

  1. I thought I was the only one! I strongly agree. It drives me nuts to hear [over and OVER] clear questions being asked but no answer actually being given. I would rather hear "no comment" or "I don't have the details on it right now, but we're hopeful" rather than hear people blather on and ON without saying anything at all. It just seems so shady. The sad part is, we, the people, can see through it and notice it, yet it keeps happening. *sigh*