Plain English is radical

Despite all the ups and downs of the past few months, there has been one constant in left wing politics: jargon. Regardless of whether Nicky Hager, Judith Collins, or Eminem led the news, the Left was ready to respond with a slew of long and fancy words. Left wing politics talks a lot about inclusion, but often it does so with some very exclusive words. I am guilty of this too.

Nothing says ‘you are not welcome in this discussion’ like jargon. If we are truly concerned with growing the Left, we need to welcome those who look leftwards instead of making them feel stupid. If we are serious about inclusive politics, then we need to make sure we don’t exclude less-advantaged people. Jargon excludes people who struggle with English and, generally speaking, people with less education.

I get that politics and identity can be complex, and that sometimes a rare word is the best word. I understand the temptation. You learn some big words at university or on a blog, they make things easier to discuss, all the people you know can define kyriarchy. But, really, some of us on the Left just love to sound clever. As renowned leftist madman Slavoj Žižek warned us, “don’t fall in love with yourselves.”

Now I know what you’re thinking: you need a heuristic to instrumentalise this methodology. Here’s my rule of thumb: unless you are fairly sure that the people listening/reading can understand you, you probably aren’t including them. And if the word is associated with post-structuralism then definitely try to avoid it. This is especially important on twitter.

I know those are some pretty average guidelines. I don’t want to set standards for the entire Left –that’s not the point. The point is that we should strive to include people. Of course, we also need to not tear them to pieces, but that’s another blog.

Practice plain English.

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2 thoughts on “Plain English is radical

  1. This is pretty much what I tell people in my work as a technology writer. I like to avoid jargon as much as possible precisely because it excludes people. Sometimes I rant about it, see http://billbennett.co.nz/2010/04/19/writing-minimise-jargon/

    In the technology world, it’s all about the commercial case: companies who overdo the jargon lose sales to companies who can articulate ideas in plain English. And often, the numbskulls who insist on jargon are the ones who are talking with forked tongues. It’s just the same with politics.

  2. Quite right Bill, the world is full of jargon, it doesn’t seem to matter what industry you are in. But outside of a number of exclusive insiders, assuming people know what you are talking about can be fatal for your business. I love the English language and increasing my vocabulary, but using it gratuitously is rarely helpful and generally not likely to impress anyone.

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