Followers of this blog will know of our admiration for the Plain English Campaign (PEC). Their mission to rid the corporate world of jargon, important-sounding vacuous waffle and ambiguous confusion is to be admired.
But, with every argument must come a counterpoint, and we discovered one very recently in the Guardian’s word blog ‘mind your language.’
The PEC’s view is that by using metaphors such as ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ and ‘move the goalposts’, is to block clear communication and, as a result, miss the message. The Campaign even quotes George Orwell, and his incisive essay ‘Politics and the English Language’: “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print”.
According to the Guardian writer, though, PEC’s mistake was to condemn metaphors in the same way as other over-used cliches such as ‘blue sky thinking’ and ‘ballpark figure’. He says the Campaign’s stance ‘betrays a lack of sensitivity to the poetry and evocative power of everyday language’.
To avoid metaphors is to avoid any familiarity for the reader or listener. Newly coined metaphors, he argues, are useful for a fresh insight or idea – but even the most gifted of writers would be hard pushed to come up with many brand new ones.
To use a sprinkling of familiar metaphors in writing or speaking is to help the reader conjure a vivid picture or inspire thought. The writer mentions Barack Obama’s inauguration speech as a good example.
Ultimately, we’re all on the same team, but the writer’s argument for words is to ‘love them, not distrust them’, to follow the rules of good English but to also use your own judgement when it comes to using one of the most useful tools a writer has.