Presently anticipating experiencing considerable precipitation

I fell off the jargon wagon with a poorly written email

September 25, 2014
Jonathan Libov

Earlier this week a partner reviewed an email I had drafted and told me it sounded stilted. I re-read the draft and, having just boasted of "loving words", recoiled at how much jargon I had used:

"We certainly share a great deal of enthusiasm..."

The horror. "We certainly share a great deal of enthusiasm" could easily be "We're also enthusiastic about".

"...get back in touch later on in your evolution"

Who talks like that? I could have just written "later on".

"...understand the app's value proposition..."

"Value proposition" is perhaps forgivable, but it's still jargon. I prefer to think in terms of what people like about a particular app, rather than whether users understand its value proposition. In any case, had I been the recipient of the email I drafted, I would have scoffed at such language.

I'm reminded of the opening to the chapter on "Simplicity" from "On Writing", by William Zinsser, one of my favorite books. Zinsser writes:

Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.

Look no further than Satya Nadella's recent public email for proof that this is truer than ever. Zinsser continues:

Who can understand the clotted language of everyday American commerce: the memo, the corporation report, the business letter, the notice from the bank explaining its latest "simplified" statement?...Our national tendency is to inflate and thereby sound important. The airline pilot who announces that he is presently anticipating experiencing considerable precipitation wouldn't think of saying it may rain. The sentence is too simple—there must be something wrong with it.

Zinsser's advice is as sage as his criticism:

The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb which carries the same meaning that is already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves she reader unsure of who is doing what—these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence.