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Writing Department Activity Aimed at Bad English

© Ugur Akinci

One of my pet peeves is the kind of English I hear used everyday on TV and radio. I have no idea why reporters are not using a simple, easy to understand  plain English when they are on air. Perhaps they don’t have the time to be short and clear. George Bernard Shaw once wrote a long letter to a friend and finished it with “P.S. Sorry for the long letter but I didn’t have the time to write a short one.”

Here are two whoppers that I keep hearing all the time:

Police Activity

“There is police department activity on the side of the road…” or “The bridge is closed due to a fire with heavy fire department activity on all lanes…”

What the heck “department activity” is supposed to mean? I can image police officers filing reports, using the telephone and the rest room, cleaning up their desks, driving to the court house…

Same goes with “fire department activity”. Are they attending a seminar on rescue methods? Washing their trucks? Eating lunch? Calling home to make sure everything’s okay?

In my mind, “department activity” is always an endless list.

Why can’t they simply say “There are police officers on the side of the road…” or “The bridge is closed due to a fire. Firefighters are trying to put out the fire…” ?

Here is another gem that I heard today:


“The report documented torture and beatings aimed at the prisoners…”

Really? It was just “aimed”? What did the “aimers” do next? Did they pull the trigger of mistreatment?

How about “The report documented that the prisoners were tortured and beaten”?

Can we aim at more clarity? Can we as writers and reporters show a little more “department activity” in that direction?

1 comment to Writing Department Activity Aimed at Bad English

  • Kathleen

    I’ve heard the quote attributed to Twain, Voltaire and Locke but this is the first time I’ve heard it attributed to George Bernard Shaw. As best as I’ve been able to tease it out (I’m fond of the quote myself), Blaise Pascal purportedly wrote it in the 1600’s.

    Which is not to suggest that the other writers didn’t come to the same sentiment independently.

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