From Style part of 'How To Use ABC Of Plain Words' by E Gowers (1951)

I was puzzled about the right title for this section. Its contents were at first in three different sections with the titles POMPOSITY, WOOLLINESS, and WORDINESS. But these overlapped too much to be kept apart. What would be a suitable title to embrace them all? I thought of OFFICIALESE, but that seemed to me hardly fair. It is true that these faults — stiffness, verbosity, woolliness and circumlocution — are not foreign to officialese, but they are not confined to it. I thought also Of JARGON. But that has not the meaning I want, although it is often used as if it had. One of Ivor Brown's words — Gargantuan, Pudder, or Barnacular — would have done nicely. But this new American word is unique in its onomatopoeic quality. Many of the new words that America exports to us we at first eye primly, perhaps even with aversion; but occasionally one turns up which fills a gap so aptly that we find it irresistible and welcome it with open arms. Gobbledygook seems to me to be a word of that sort: if my adoption of it does anything towards popularising it over here, I shall have done my country some service.

A large part of this book is directed against the style known in the United States as gobbledygook. This is not easy to define. It is certainly not merely a matter of using long and unusual words; there are dangers in supposing that it is. So many wise men throughout the centuries, from Aristotle to Mr. Winston Churchill, have emphasised the importance of using short and simple words, that long words may be in peril of being treated with less respect than they deserve. If the choice is between two words that convey a writer's meaning equally well, one short and familiar and the other long and unusual, of course the short and familiar should be preferred. But one that is long and unusual should not be rejected merely on that account if it is more apt in meaning. Mr. Churchill himself does not hesitate to prefer flocculent to woolly and liquidate to destroy if he thinks that the more uncommon word will be more effective in transferring what is in his mind into his readers'. Moreover there is an ugliness of shortness as well as an ugliness of length. On the same day in different daily papers I have seen the same official referred to as "Administrator of the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation" and as "Aid Boss". Neither title is euphonious, and few would unhesitatingly prefer the short one.

Gobbledygook is a composite quality. The main object of this book is to analyse and classify its manifestations, and to write something about each under a heading appropriate to it. Examples are the headings Abstract Words, Arrangement, Cliché, Explanation, Involve, Jargon, Metaphor, Noun-Adjectives, Padding, Parenthesis, Position, Prepositions, Sentences, among many others. I have in fact attempted what, if I were writing gobbledygook, I should call a "breakdown" of gobbledygook. Under the present general heading are collected a few examples, not easily classifiable, of those elements of gobbledygook that might be labelled pomposity, circumlocution, woolliness and wordiness, and a suggested translation of each into plain words:

Examples (Translation)
An essential prerequisite to the adequate fulfilment of the dual functions of research and teaching is an atmosphere of freedom and progress. (Teaching and research can only be adequately carried on in and an atmosphere of freedom and progress.)

There is a complete lack of ablution facilities. (There is nowhere to wash.)

In the initial stages. (At first.)

Circumstances which obtained prior to the outbreak of hostilities. (Conditions before the war.)

If they make a nil determination of need.(If they decide there is no case for giving anything.)

Was this the realisation of an anticipated liability? (Did you expect that you would have to do this?)

The position regarding this matter is that owing to the fact that two claims were made by two claimants of the same name some confusion arose.(Confusion arose because there were two claimants with the same name.)

I should be glad if you would be good enough to confirm the settlement and it would be of assistance to me if you are prepared to state the terms thereof and the approximate proportion of the full claim which such settlement represents. (Will you please confirm the settlement. It would help me if you tell me its terms, and how the amount compares with your full claim.)

Having regard to these different considerations and the evidence available, the general conclusion in the light of the latest investigation is that there is no definite scientific justification either for national measures aimed at reducing appreciably the rook population or for encouraging its increase. . . .This accords with what is understood to be the Ministry's present attitude to the rook. (All this leads us to the conclusion that no case can be made out for encouraging either the killing of rooks or their protection. This, we understand, accords with the Ministry's present policy.)

I would suggest therefore that this firm's production from an output point of view is determined with regard to each of these main headings, and then it would be advisable to approach Mr. X so that he may have this firm's requirements considered by the correct departments. (I suggest that this firm's output should be stated under these headings, and referred to Mr. X so that he may have their requirements considered by the right departments.)

(This illustrates the tendency of phrases like "point of view" and "with regard to" to produce woolly writing. Here "production from an output point of view" means no more than "output" and "determined with regard to these headings" means "stated under these headings".)

The Committee have decided to grant the application, subject to the exclusion of the provision of general medical services by of you in those parts of the. . .area where the Committee declared the number of doctors to be adequate. . . . Such restriction is subject to the right of appeal against the decision of the Committee to the Minister. (The Committee grant you leave to practise except in these parts of the area where they have declared the number doctors to be adequate. You have the right to appeal to the Minister against this limitation)

In this connexion I am to say that before the Department can assess the value of the plant, it will be necessary for them to receive from you, through this office, details of the items in question rendered on the appropriate forms. It would be appreciated therefore if you would complete the enclosed form with the required information, and return the schedule in quintuplicate to this office at the above address. (Before the Department can assess the value of the plant they must have details of it on the appropriate forms. Will you therefore please complete the enclosed form and return it with five copies of the schedule.)

The following example and the suggested translation of it are taken from the Municipal Review:

The object of sifting these waiting lists is to ascertain the existing live demand for houses required to meet the needs of families who are not satisfactorily housed and also to secure that the lists are not inflated by retention on them of those who, since their application, have removed from the district, have found accommodation for themselves, or for other reasons do not now desire to be considered. (These lists should be sifted to find out how many families still want houses and to eliminate those who no longer need or wish to be considered.)

The following is from the British Medical Journal:

Imitation "legalese" is far more annoying to read than the genuine article, yet it abounds in letters running on administrative errands throughout the health service. A correspondent tells us that a regional hospital board sent him a letter asking him to certify that the candidate for a job "is free from any physical defect or disease which now impairs her capacity satisfactorily to undertake the duties of the post for which she is a candidate". The writer of the letter apparently quoted this curious phrase from another document, presumably because he felt that he would be sailing across an uncharted sea if he asked our correspondent to certify that the candidate was fit for the job.

Lastly, a piece of gobbledygook that defies translation:

To reduce the risk of war and establish conditions of lasting peace requires the closer co-ordination in the employment of their joint resources to underpin these countries' economics in such a manner as to permit the full maintenance of their social and material standards as well as to adequate development of the necessary measures.