The meaning of this popular word has been diluted to a point of extreme insipidity. Originally it meant wrap up in something, enfold. Then it acquired the figurative meaning entangle a person in difficulties or embarrassment, and especially implicate in crime, or a charge. Then it began to lose colour, and to be used as though it meant nothing more than include, contain or imply. It has thus developed a vagueness that makes it the delight of those who dislike the effort of searching for the right word. It is consequently much used, generally where some more specific word would be better, and sometimes where it is merely superfluous.
This is no new phenomenon. More than forty years ago Sir Clifford Allbut, writing about the English style of medical students at Cambridge, said:
To involve, with its ugly and upstart noun involvement has to do duty for to attack, to invade, to injure, to affect, to pervert, to encroach upon, to influence, to enclose, to implicate, to permeate, to pervade, to penetrate, to dislocate, to contaminate, and so forth.
Here are a few recent examples from official writing:
The additional rent involved will be £1. (Omit involved.)
There are certain amounts of the material available without permit, but the quantities involved are getting less. (Omit involved.)
It has been agreed that the capital cost involved in the installation of the works shall be included. (...that the capital cost of installing...)
An offence involving the death penalty. (An offence punishable by death.)
It is some comfort to learn that the eight to thirteen bracket is the only one that involved more arrests. (. . . is the only one in which there were more arrests.)
Patients desiring to pay for the extra amenity involved. (Omit involved.)
Much labour has been involved in advertising. (Much labour has been expended on advertising.)
If she is to take any part in the care of children, employment would be involved which should be put on a paid footing. (If she is to take any part in the care of children, that would be employment which . . .)
The following four examples all occur in one paragraph of a memorandum, covering less than half a page, and strikingly illustrate the ascendancy of this word over undiscriminating writers:
The Ministry have indicated that they would not favour any proposal which would involve an increase in establishment at the present time. (Involve here is harmless, but in order to practise shaking off its yoke, let us substitute mean or lead to.)
The Company would oppose this application unless compensation involving a substantial sum were paid. (This one cannot get off so lightly. The writer should have said "unless a substantial sum were paid in compensation.")
We have been informed that the procedure involved would necessitate lengthy negotiation. . . . (Here involved is doing no work at all and should be omitted.)
This would possibly involve the creation of a precedent that might embarrass the Government. (This illustrates the greatest of the sins into which involve seduces the writer — that of saying involve the creation of instead of the simple, direct and adequate create.)
Such are some of the sadly flabby uses to which this word of character is put. Reserve it for more virile purposes and especially for use where there is a suggestion of entanglement or complication, as we use involved when we say "this is a most involved subject". Here are two examples of its reasonable use:
This experience has thrown into high relief the complications and delays involved in the existing machinery for obtaining approval.
Mr. Menzies protested against the Australian Government's acceptance of the invitation to the conference at Delhi on the Indonesian dispute, holding that Australia ought not to be involved.
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