Saturday, 22 January 2011

Sunday, 9 January 2011

A Champion of Plain English

“If you can’t explain what you’re doing in plain English, you’re probably doing something wrong.”

With those words in a celebrated memo written shortly after he became chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, Alfred E. Kahn urged the lawyers and economists on his staff to express themselves more clearly when drafting board rulings and letters for his signature.

“Every time you’re tempted to use ‘herein’ or ‘hereinabout’ or ‘hereinunder’ or, similarly, ‘therein,’ thereinabove’ or ‘thereinunder,” and the corresponding variants,” he continued, “try ‘here’ or ‘there’ or ‘above’ or ‘below,’ and see if it doesn’t make just as much sense.”

Mr. Kahn, who died late last month at the age of 93, was almost alone among his fellow economists in his devotion to clear, parsimonious language. The first impulse of many dismal scientists is instead to ask, “Isn’t there some way to make this idea more complicated?”

Original New York Times article here