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Towards more picturesque speech

George Orwell on plain English | SEC guidance on plain English Plain English Anatomy Noun | Verb | Adjective | Adverb | Preposition | Conjunction | Latin | Germany | Flannel | Legal triplicate | Nominalisation | Murder your darlings

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“Give me credit,” I said, “I am trying”.
“Well”, she replied, “I’ll give you that. You are trying.” I smiled, flushing with unexpected compliment endorphins.
Very trying.”

Endeavour” neatly illustrates the practical problem with plain English. It is a silly word: long; archaic; it conjures images of Captain Spaulding, in a pith helmet, slashing through jungle in the Congo on the hunt for Dr. Livingstone. Its alternative — “try” — is better in every way that a plain speaker cares about: shorter, more idiomatic, plainer, less fussy.

But there, Dr. Livingstone I presume, lies the problem: “try” slices cleanly through the semantic murk that “endeavour” so skillfully stirs up. It makes clear something the draftsman rather hoped to obscure: namely, that this is a feeble covenant, not worth the paper it is written on.

Consider these alternatives:

“The vendor shall endeavour to notify the purchaser of its intention within a reasonable period, but shall not have any liability for failing to do so.”

Which sounds qualified — sure — but at least carrying some meat on its bones.

But the plain English alternative reveals how thin that old hogget really is:

“The vendor must try to tell the purchaser, but isn't responsible if it doesn’t.”

See also