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Once precision is abandoned as a linguistic or literary virtue, vague generalization is one of the two remaining possibilities, gibberish being the second.
— Wendell Berry
If you've had the pleasure of reading through or making sense of such things as tax instructions or insurance policies, it's easy to get frustrated with cluttered prose. The term goobledygook - as funny as it might look and sound - refers to nonsensical language, sound that resembles language but has no meaning. It also means official, professional and pretentious verbiage. In plain language, it refers to something being expressed in an overly complicated matter. There are many other terms for this, some of which you might have heard before: jargon, bureaucratic language, double-talk, officialese, federalease, and doublespeak. It's full of abstractions, indirect words, and convulated constructions, devoid of humanity and sensitivity. It's easy to recognize gobbledygook by its pomposity and wordiness. For example -
GOOBLEDYGOOK: The committee must implement the operationalizing of those mechanisms and modes of activity and strategies necessary to maintain the viability of the institution's fiscal management operations.
REVISED: The committee must take measures to ensure the institution's financial security.
See the difference? So why do so many writers tend to rely on gobbledygook? Mostly because they have nothing of substance to say or they do not understand their subjects or they try to protect themselves from criticism of their ideas; they do not really want anyone to understand what they say, or they believe, rightly or wrongly, that the inflated prose impresses readers. In other words, the 'bigger' words you know, the 'smarter' you are. Hmmm...not so much. Here are a few examples of words and phrases, in goobledygook, that you should try to avoid as much as possible.
Goobledygook -- Plain English
initiate -- begin
terminate -- end
administrate -- administer
summarization -- summary
routinization -- routine
at this point in time -- now
prior to -- before
subsequent to -- after
a majority of -- most
a number of -- some
of considerate magnitude -- large
due to the fact that -- because
in such a manner as to -- to
in the neighborhood of -- about
in connection with -- about
as a result -- so
When your reader has to try to make sense of what you're writing, frustration, lack of interest and even annoyance sets in, and that is the last thing you want to do as a writer. Remember to keep your words as simple as possible, yet still managing to have a clear command of the language without alienating your audience.
Think you're good at weeding out the goobledygook from a narrative? Then try the exercise below when you have the time.
EXERCISE: Identify the goobledygook in the following passage and re-write in plain English. Good luck!
It has been shown at this point in time that contributions to the community improvement fund have fallen short of expectations. We had envisionized reaching our goal during the course of our fund-raising drive to accumulate the optimum number of contributions. Even though we utilized all feasible resources subsequent to the initiation of the drive, the requisite amount of money has not materialized, and we find ourselves with a deficit of considerable magnitude. It is clear that a plan of action must be activated that will minimize our problems. We must be cognizant of improved techniques that can expedite our endeavors in the future.