‘S Dickens, innit

He began by turning Shakespeare into txt spk. Now it’s Dickens for da yoof of today.

Martin Baum, a father from Bournemouth, has rewritten Dickens in ‘yoof-speak’ in order – he claims – to get children interested in reading. ‘Kids today have invented their own language,’ says Baum.   ‘And I use this language to try and engage them.’

Judge his alleged mission as you will, while you contemplate his opening to Da Tale of Two Turfs: ‘It was da best of times and, not being funny or nuffing, but it was da worst of times, to be honest …’

Cutting weasel words? I’ll get back to you

We might all have certain choice words that we resist saying to our work colleagues or boss at times. But these are probably quite different from the list of taboo workplace words and phrases recently published in Forbes Magazine.

The article asserts that phrases like ‘we’ll see’, ‘I don’t know’ and ‘I’ll get back to you’, as well as so-called ‘weasel’ words like ‘if’ and ‘try’, should be struck from our office vocabulary, if not our lives. ‘Take a scalpel and cut them out of your thinking, speaking and writing,’ declares the author, psychotherapist and business consultant Linda Durré. ‘Words like these only weaken you and make you sound noncommittal, undependable and untrustworthy.’

No doubt most of us favour certainty and a ‘can do’ attitude in our business dealings. But the problem with such a blanket ban on these words and phrases is that they can actually be pretty useful. In an ideal world, we might all know everything in the instant that we’re asked. But in reality, sometimes you need to buy time in order to double check or do some research before passing information on to a client. Infinitely better that they should have to wait for an hour and get all the facts the first time, rather than potentially acting on misinformation you blurted out on the spot, under the pressure of not being able to say ‘if’.

Good business relationships depend on someone saying ‘I’ll get back to you’ and doing it, ‘try’ and meaning it, and ‘I don’t know – but I can find out’ as necessary, not on cutting such phrases out altogether.

Literacy is key to success at work

Poor literacy at work is still a major problem, new research has found.

The report, Literacy: State of the Nation, examined the UK’s literacy levels both in schools and in the workplace.

While a quarter of young people see no connection between reading and success, the research results made the link clear. Two-thirds of men and three-quarters of women with low literacy levels had never received a promotion.

The knock-on effect could be costing the rest of the country too, according to the National Literacy Trust, which published the report. The findings are ‘extremely worrying’, says Jonathan Douglas, the Trust’s director. ‘It is estimated that poor literacy costs the economy £2.5bn a year.’

Worrying indeed.

Texting turnaround on literacy

There’s been another U-turn on the effects of texting on children’s literacy skills.

The latest research, conducted by Dr Clare Wood at the British Academy, suggests that, far from damaging their ability to read and write, using ‘textisms’ like ‘LOL’ and ‘plz’ is actually a sign of sophisticated phonological development.

Great news for the future generation, certainly. But is anyone else dizzy yet?

The offence of bad language

Finally, a House of Commons report that is a cause for celebration.

This is Bad Language: the Use and Abuse of Official Language – the result of an investigation into the many ways in which politicians and civil servants may baffle and intimidate readers with their use of jargon-heavy, euphemism-filled waffle. By making such official documents virtually unreadable, the report points out, the public is effectively denied access to political policies that affect them.

The committee behind the report are planning to crack down on perpetrators by issuing penalties for instances where poor use of language has damaging results, like a person failing to receive benefits or services they are entitled to.

And while their plan is to refer to the offence of bad political language by the rather jargon-y term ‘maladministration’, we really can’t do anything but applaud these announcements.

Police wasting time

The police often have a hand in giving out long sentences. Now they’re writing them.

A potentially record-breaking 102-word single sentence appears in the Association of Chief Police Officers’ comeback to a government report on policing. Here’s the offending passage (note – do not attempt to read this before operating heavy machinery):

“The promise of reform which the Green Paper heralds holds much for the public and Service alike; local policing, customized to local need with authentic answerability, strengthened accountabilities at force level through reforms to police authorities and HMIC, performance management at the service of localities with targets and plans tailored to local needs, the end of centrally engineered one size fits all initiatives, an intelligent approach to cutting red tape through redesign of processes and cultures, a renewed emphasis on strategic development so as to better equip our service to meet the amorphous challenges of managing cross force harms, risks and opportunities.”

If you made it to the end: well done. This kind of meandering, jargon-heavy sentence would almost certainly lose most readers a quarter of the way through: 35 words should be the maximum length in such a document.

Although a spokeswoman did hold her hands up on behalf of the police chiefs’ verbosity, she also posed the defence that the piece was written primarily to persuade civil servants. She claimed it was therefore written in ‘a language familiar to them’.

The civil servants we’ve worked with certainly deserve a lot better.

But if she’s right about ACPO’s audience, it’s little wonder that we’re all prisoners to paperwork.

Is it a feathered sky-dwelling nest-builder? Is it an aerodynamic pan-destinational person carrier? No, it’s Sloganizer!

Are you struggling to come up with a new nugget of corporate gobbledegook? Could your report benefit from some indecipherable doublespeak? Are you floundering from a lack of filler? Never fear. Sloganizer to the rescue!

The new application for the iPhone brings the old paper Sloganizer right up-to-date – and right into your office.

When it became obvious in the 1970s that ambiguous nonsense was the latest staple of boardrooms around Britain, Sloganizer was born. In its first incarnation, it was made of paper and offered up to 1000 random three-part combinations of meaningless business lingo, such as ‘decentralization of participative ambiguity’.

The latest downloadable version will reveal up to 375,000 internally interchangeable – and utterly incomprehensible – phrases with a simple shake of your iPhone. Some highlights include:

Multi-disciplinary bureaucratic strategy determination
Integral prognosis of fields of tension
Functional conservative alternative behaviour.

While the last one might well refer to David Cameron’s conduct and policies as he tries to elbow Gordon Brown out of the PM spot, we can guarantee that 99 per cent of the slogans will mean absolutely nothing. This is the jargon jackpot.

Please note: Emphasis and the makers of Sloganizer bear no responsibility for any loss of time, money or respect while using this product.

Microsoft to improve 'buying experience at retail'. (That's 'shopping' to you and me.)

Microsoft has announced it’s to open its own shops, in a clear bid to grab a slice of the Apple retail action.

Apple trades on its image as the quintessence of cool: all innovative design and sleek lines. Microsoft may face an uphill battle in this respect, at least if its press release announcing the move is anything to go by.

It quotes Kevin Turner, Microsoft’s chief operating officer, as saying:

We’re working hard to transform the PC and Microsoft buying experience at retail by improving the articulation and demonstration of the Microsoft innovation and value proposition so that it’s clear, simple and straightforward for consumers everywhere.

‘What?’ you may ask. Good question.

I was going to offer a translation, but I’m afraid it’s stumped me. Some ‘clear, simple and straightforward’ language might be a good start, Mr Turner.

Longest paragraph in print goes on display

If you’re struggling to read the latest lengthy management report, it could be worse. Take a look at this. It’s the original manuscript scroll for Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel, On the Road, which goes on display in Europe for the first time at Birmingham’s Barber Institute today.

Kerouac wrote the novel on sheets of tracing paper and taped them together to form a scroll 120 feet long, in what must be the longest single paragraph in print. (Even the human genome sequence report  is broken up into sections on individual chromosomes, although some would argue it’s not such a good read.)

But that didn’t stop it inspiring an entire generation to drop out of society and seek an alternative to the nine to five (a burden that the author found too much to bear: he deliberately drank himself to death according to former friends).

He reportedly completed it after 20 days of continuous typing, fuelled by nothing stronger than coffee.

We wouldn’t really recommend Kerouac’s somewhat eccentric approach as an example of best practice, so don’t try this at home (or the office). For advice on how to write an effective report, better to read ten tips for writing high-impact documents.