Microsoft – can you write software better than you write English?

Most mission statements are mush. Read any corporation’s or (if you are having a really good day and want to make your self feel despondent) government department’s mission statement to realise how poorly the 26 letters of the alphabet can be organised.

Platitudes, jargon, euphemisms and plain junk writing infest many if not most of these dog piles.

Imagine this situation: a software company, perhaps once the greatest, needs to reinvent itself to adapt to changing hardware forms, such as tablets and smart phones. It reorganises itself to be able to compete and stay relevant.

It’s Microsoft, of course, once a stock market darling and innovator. These days it’s beginning to resemble a stagecoach about a decade after trains began running on time.

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Pin a tail on it and call it weasel words

United Nations Development Programme

One of the things that struck me as a reporter in my previous life was that defensive explanations are often  inversely credible to the number of words that they contain.

The best I ever read were years ago in Newsweek’s letter to the editor column. Someone would complain about a story’s slant or conclusion and Newsweek, in bold, would print: Newsweek stands by its story (on those occasion in which they did). I always admired them for it.

Take the other extreme. The UN Development Programme is supposed to alleviate world poverty. Our former Prime Minister, Helen Clark leads it. It has been rebuked by a damning internal investigation by its own board, which found that many of its actions had “only remote connections with poverty, if at all”.  Pretty strong stuff.

Taking Newsweek’s cue, the agency’s response could have been: “We stand by our actions”.

But, instead, in a little under 8 thousand words (8 thousand!), the agency trots out enough weasel words to make Don Watson maintain an erection for a long weekend.

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Assaults on English

What is it about English that bureaucrats and middle managers feel that they can destroy it by reassembling the 26 letters that they have available into gobbledygook and nonsense?

At random, today, here are two examples of junk writing that should never have passed muster.

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