Say What You Mean and Stand Up for It

When did fourth-and-goal become a fourth-and-goal situation?

When did rain become a weather event?

If you have something to say, say it. You don’t need to embellish it with meaningless add-ons and fluff like “situation” and “event.”

Do you say, “I had a great Thanksgiving situation with my family”?

How about, “I got drunk last night and had a vomit event”?

Crap on a cracker, folks. Think about what you’re saying when you make a presentation. Think about what you’re writing in that memo or proposal. What in the hell are you trying to say, anyway? Why do you need to add any more unhelpful habits to your life than you already have?

(To answer my questions, by the way, common usage of the superfluous “situation” and “event” came out of military jargon and congressional hearings during the Vietnam and Watergate era.)

This isn’t brain surgery. Hell, the whole kit and caboodle of effective writing can be found in a skinny little book called The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. It’s got 22 elementary rules of usage and composition, "a few matters of form” and a review of commonly misused words and expressions. And it wraps up with 21 brief suggestions on writing style.

(I still refer to my paperback copy from my undergraduate days, the 1979 third edition; that’s my copy you see in the accompanying photographs.)

Rule 17: Omit needless words.

You know, words like “situation” and “event.”

Words matter. Find the words that do the right job and then let your thoughts stand on their own two feet.

And for Pete’s sake, surely there’s a word that will do the job better than “issue.” Damn. Even with online dictionaries and thesauruses, the world has run amok with issues.

He has women issues. She has relationship issues. We have corporate brand identity issues. They have managerial engagement issues.

As if that’s not enough, now we have prepositional issues: They have issues around managerial engagement.

Look, this is passive-aggressive jargon crap. Save us all the trouble and time of needing to ask you what you mean when you use the stupid word “issue.” Say what the damned issue is from the get-go and let’s deal with it.

Strunk and White’s Rule 16: Use definite, specific, concrete language.

And I’ll bet you dollars to donuts if you do at least some of what Strunk and White suggest, your HR message — or any message you want to present to anyone, anytime — will come across more strongly and be heard more clearly.

Got an issue with that?