Author Topic: Avoiding very officious stock phrases in our English -2  (Read 7867 times)

Joe Carillo

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Avoiding very officious stock phrases in our English -2
« on: October 12, 2023, 06:05:52 AM »
Before taking up a workable strategy for banishing officious stock phrases from our written and spoken English, I am first presenting a chart of the most irksome 33 stock phrases that creep into our memos and reports with us not even realizing it.

In 2013, while running a series of columns discouraging the use of very officious stock phrases in English, I received a very illuminating response from a Tanzania-based Forum member, Mwita Chacha:
He wrote:   

“I agree that the best way to effectively get our ideas across is by making our sentences as precise as possible. But as a beginning writer, I sometimes feel reluctant to use a word more than two times in the same writing. That’s why I’m sometimes tempted to alternate, say, ‘about’ with unpleasant bureaucratic phrases like ‘with regard to,’ ‘with reference to,’ and ‘as regards.’ Admittedly, they sound standoffish and tend to just get in the way of clear communication, but I think they help in many ways to eradicate repetition in the prose.”

I replied to Mwita that the repeated use of a particular word in writing is by itself not objectionable if not carried to ridiculous extremes. What’s to be avoided altogether is the dysfunctional misuse of words or phrases—even if done only once—in a wrong language register and tonality.    

Language register is simply the variety and tone of the language used in a particular social, occupational, or professional context. In degree of formality, the English language register has six categories: very formal, rigid, bureaucratic language; formal, ceremonious, carefully precise language; neutral, objective, impartial language; informal, casual language; very informal, very casual language; and intimate, very personal and private language.

It just so happens that over the centuries, the legal profession had developed a variety of English that’s pejoratively called legalese, an officious language that can be roughly classified between very formal and formal language. Lawyers liberally use legalese in contracts, affidavits, depositions, and pleadings before a court of law. As we should all know by now, a distinctive feature of legalese is the replacement of the day-to-day preposition “about” with the longish phrases “with regard to,” “with reference to,” and “as regards” and the replacement of the day-to-day conjunctions “because” and “so” and of the conjunctive adverb “later” with their longish equivalents “whereas,” “therefore,” and “hereinafter,” 

When legalese is used and stays within legal circles, all will be well with English as we laypeople know it. But legalese has continually leached into both written and spoken business English over the centuries, such that a typical memo or business report these days—despite the fact that they are meant to be read by laypeople like most of us—sounds like an abstruse legal brief written by lawyers for the consumption of adversarial lawyers and court magistrates. Often liberally peppered with such officious phrases as “attached herewith,” “aforesaid,” “heretofore,” and “for your perusal,” they are too rigid, bureaucratic, and needlessly harsh in tone.   

For this reason, my advice to users of English outside of the legal profession is to fiercely resist the temptation to use those very officious and legalistic phrases in their own written and spoken prose. Anyone will be much better off as a writer and as a communicator by sticking to the standard, vanilla-type English prepositions and conjunctions instead. There’s little room for doubt that readers or listeners will understand and appreciate memos and reports much, much better if they are shorn of legalese and rendered in plain and simple English.

Read this essay and listen to its voice recording in The Manila Times:
Avoiding very officious stock phrases in our English-2/1914383      

Next: Using appositives for texture and depth      October 19, 2023

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« Last Edit: October 12, 2023, 09:25:13 AM by Joe Carillo »