Explanation

Explanation must be in simple language if it is to serve its purpose. Above all it must get away from legal language, which is almost always difficult to understand.

With reference to your letter of the 12th August, I have to state in answer to question 1 thereof that where particulars of a partnership are disclosed to the Executive Council the remuneration of the individual partner for superannuation purposes will be deemed to be such proportion of the total remuneration of such practitioners as the proportion of his share in the partnership profits bears to the total proportion of the shares, of such practitioner in those profits.

This is a good example of how not to explain. I think it means merely "Your income will be taken to be the same proportion of the firm's remuneration as you used to get of its profits". I may be wrong, but even so I cannot believe that language is unequal to any clearer explanation than the unfortunate correspondent received.

Even if the explanation had been a clear one the letter would have been damned by the pomposity of "I have to state in answer to question 1 thereof".

Here is another explanation that is faulty for the same reason, that it does not shake off the shackles of legal language:

Separate departments in the same premises are treated as separate premises for this purpose where separate branches of work which are commonly carried on as separate businesses in separate premises are carried on in separate departments in the same premises.

This is an example of that mathematical arrangement of words that lawyers adopt in order to make their meaning unambiguous. Worked out as one would work out an equation, the sentence serves its purpose; as literature, it is balderdash. The explanation could easily have been given in some such way as this:

If branches of work commonly carried on as separate businesses are carried on in separate departments of the same premises, those departments will be treated as separate premises.

It is worth remembering how often an unruly sentence like this can be reduced to order by turning part of it into an "if" clause.

Here is an example from America of an explanation which leaves the thing explained more obscure than it was before.

The New Yorker of the 17th August, 1948, quotes from a publication called "Systems Magazine":

Let us paraphrase and define work simplification as "that method of accomplishing a necessary purpose omitting nothing necessary to that purpose in the simplest fashion is best". This definition is important for it takes the mystery out of work simplification and leaves the essentials clearly outlined and succinctly stated.

The New Yorker's comment is: " It does indeed ".

The feeling that prompts you to tell your correspondent everything when explaining is commendable, but you will often help him more by resisting it, and confining yourself to the facts that are necessary in order that he may understand what has happened.

I regret however that the Survey Officer who is responsible for the preliminary investigation as to the technical possibility of installing a telephone at the address quoted by any applicant has reported that owing to a shortage of a spare pair of wires to the underground cable (a pair of wires leading from the point near your house right back to the local exchange and thus a pair of wires essential for the provision of telephone service for you) is lacking and that therefore it is a technical impossibility to install a telephone for you at . . .

This explanation is obscure partly because the sentence is too long, partly because the long parenthesis has thrown the grammar out of gear, and partly because the writer, with the best intentions, says far more than is necessary even for a thoroughly polite and convincing explanation. It might have run thus:

I am sorry to have to tell you that we have found that there is no spare pair of wires on the cable that would have to be used to connect your house with the exchange. I fear therefore that it is technically impossible to install a telephone for you.

In the following letter from a county Territorial Association that I have called the "Xshire" to another that I have called the "Yshire", the writer has let his anxiety to tell the whole truth run right away with him:

With reference to your memo. T/O/8 Pending dated 16/10/45 above man is not serving now in 4th Xshire Bn. H.G., having been posted from that unit to the 2nd Xshire Bn. H.G. and then reposted from the 2nd Xshire Bn. H.G. to 8th Yshire Bn. H.G. (see reverse side of AFW3066 in your possession). As we have previously explained to you under our memo. . . . the reason why we applied to you under our reference . . . dated . . . for AFW3066 showing his personal service, was because we were under the impression that he had been discharged from the 8th Yshire Bn. H.G., as prior to the above information having been traced, when this man was posted from the 2nd Xshire Bn. H.G. to the 8th Yshire Bn. H.G. instead of original AFW3066 being forwarded to you, his re-enrolment form in the 2nd Xshire Bn. H.G., was sent. Later this man's name was connected up with the original AFW3066 in our "untraceable" files of the 4th Xshire Bn. H.G., and we then incorrectly came to the conclusion—not having both AFWs3066 in our possession to compare dates of enrolmen—that this man was discharged from the 8th Yshire Bn. H.G. and the AFW3066 already sent to you upon this member's posting from the 2nd Xshire Bn. H.G. to 8th Yshire Bn. H.G. was his original AFW3066 instead of re-enrolment, and therefore applied to you for same as "Previous Service". However this matter has now been put in order at our end, the Xshire Battalions in question having amended their Part II Orders accordingly. The AFW3066 which you are now holding is the original, and we have cancelled the re-enrolment in our possession.

It is regretted that this is so involved, but we hope we have now made the matter clear to you.

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