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Great ➝ Handy

Those who write clearly have readers, those who write obscurely have commentators. - Albert Camus

From grandiloquence to preciseness that counts, calls for a sharp enough mind.

Something that commercials call "great", is perhaps 'handy' or 'neat'. If that is so, it is healthier to say so too.

Change of words denotes changes in thought patterns, and improved thought patterns may engender healthier outlooks, responses, and budding deeds of many sorts. To replace swollen or overdone expressions so as to make them more precise and matter-of-fact, could help many. Such a "deal" is aligned to Plain English and its praiseworthy counsels on how to simplify expressions against stilted, circumlocuted and bombastic officialese. Have a look. (Cutts 2013)

The words you put on things and happenings can influence your handling, or cause inflation of your worth as a careful informer.

Great ➝ Neat ➝ Handy

Roger Barrass and others have written example lists of words and phrases to omit and shun, what words and phrases to simplify because they work better. Simple clarity is a praiseworthy thing to go for. Such "handy thought" is had by being accurate, carefully nuanced, to the point, not overdoing expressivity, and preferably keeping it simple. That could work all right. (cf. Barrass 2002).

Instead of "immediately" you can say "at once". Instead of "relatively" you can try "quite", and thereby improve your language, hopefully.

  • Prefer crisp and short terms and expressions to the long and difficult ones.
  • Prefer terse euphony ("pleasing words and sentence constructions", ie, sweet melodiousness, harmony) also. Handbooks on writing in scientific manner may not include that one, but pleasing language helps in a wide perspective as compared to harsh, superfluous, and unnecessary long-winded expressions when there is no need for them.

From great to handy

Above adjustments of words and phrases are shifts of meaning. To gear down from saying 'great' to 'handy', marks a change of attitude, a saner attitude.

Great ➝ Neat ➝ Handy.

Consider the chain above. If the great thing is unwieldy, it should give way to something neat, at least. That would not be deplorable. And to go on from neat to handy could mark something humans can use - preferably easily. Sometimes it is correct to get to that.

If what is called great is not handy, if we cannot make good use of it to improve on living, it may serve wrong ends at bottom. Not everything that is marketed as progress means progress for humans and human-scaled enterprises.

Novelties that are merely great-looking can incapacitate mankind in the long haul. Neat and handy novelties are different, and could be worth going for.

There are two trains of thought above:

  • From circumlocution (long-windedness, using an unnecessarily large number of words to express an idea) to plain language. A thesaurus can come in handy in such cases.
  • From grandiloquence (inflated or swollen language, talking big, clumsily so) to Sachlichkeit (being matter-of-fact and nuanced).

Both improvements are thought to be related to attitudes and mentalities. Every little helps, it is said. The online ◦Plain English Campaign explains how - and suggest synonyms and simpler phrases. So 'disburse' may be exchanged for 'pay, pay out'.

Words and phrases to avoid . . . often crop up in letters and reports. Often you can remove them from a sentence without changing the meaning or the tone. In other words, they add nothing [wise] to the message. Try leaving them out of your writing. (Plain English Campaign)

If you find yourself about to write, type or dictate a word you wouldn't use in every day conversation, look it up [and] find a simpler alternative. Often there will be a choice of several words. You need to pick the one that best fits what you are trying to say. (Plain English Campaign)

To see through the Campaign's some hundred plain English alternatives to the pompous words and phrases that litter official writing, may cause a sigh or more. If we have used 'ascertain' when 'find out' might do, for example. Still, there are other synonyms to 'ascertain' that could be even better in their circumstances, for example "find out what it is, especially by making a deliberate effort to do so." learn Going for the precise meaning, consider alternatives;

ascertain: appreciate; find (something) out for certain; become aware of; catch on to; cognize; comprehend; confirm; cotton on to; decide; deduce; determine; diagnose; dig out/up; discern; discover; divine; establish; fathom (out); ferret out; ferret out; figure out; find out; fix; fix; get; get a fix on; get/come to know; grasp; identify; intuit; latch on to; learn; make certain (of); make out; make sure of; perceive; pin down; realize; recognize; register; savvy; see; settle; suss (out); take in; tumble to; twig; understand; verify; work out (Oxford Dictionaries and Collins English Thesaurus)

Make your lambs thrive

Take away the woolly and see if you can use what remains. It may look like sheared sheep, that is, not as impressive, but it is the same sheep all the same. Let relevant and significant meaning come first, and only then cater to the form (word or phrase).

It boils down to this: Make your lambs thrive, and consider the circumstances. Being sheared may not make the lamb thrive for some months. Just a little wool should be good for the lamb as well. So decide whether and how far you dare to shear your words, phrases and clauses -

So there exceptions to the general principles that make for Plain English. Our choices of words, phrases and sentence structures depend in part on who we turn to (address) and the overarching circumstances. Maybe we feel too insecure to "shear our sheep" and leave out "word padding" and inflected sentences, even if we want to or should say things clearly, or clearly enough, for example where people wear masks and use jargon, officialese and whatever.

Mask of general Zhao Yun, used in folk opera


From great to handy, from grandiloquence to preciseness, Literature  

Barrass, Robert. Scientists Must Write: A Guide to Better Writing for Scientists, Engineers and Students. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2002.

Blamires, Harry. 2000. The Penguin Guide to Plain English: Express Yourself Clearly and Effectively. London: Penguin Books.

Cutts, Martin. 2013. Oxford Guide to Plain English. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gowers, Sir Ernest. The Complete Plain Words. 3rd ed. Rev. Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut. London: Penguin, 1987.

Plain English Campaign. 2001. The A to Z of Alternative Words. Online and PDF download.

Rawson, Hugh. 1981. A Dictionary of Euphemisms and Other Doubletalk: Being a Compilation of Linguistic Fig Leaves and Verbal Flourishes for Artful Users of the English Language. New York: Crown Publishers.

Sowton, Chris. 2012. 50 Steps to Improve Your Academic Writing. Reading, Berkshire: Garnet Education.

Urdan, Timothy C. 2011. Statistics in Plain English. 3rd ed. Hove, East Sussex: Taylor and Francis.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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