The expression “Bullshit baffles brains!” comes to mind when I think about how some people need to write. James Boren (1972) , in his not-so-satirical book When in Doubt, Mumble: A Bureaucrat’s Handbook, states:

“In any well-organized bureaucracy, the theme of communication is less important than the artistry with which words, charts, and other tools of communication are used. Rhetorical artistry reigns supreme in the substantive aesthetics of the art. Bureaucratic experience reflects that junior executives or beginning bureaucrats must learn to use the qualifying abstractions that spell the difference between routine presentations and neutral masterpieces.” (p.7)

So, an example of how aspiring corporate ladder-climbers should change their ways, is the following:

Instead of saying “I doubt that it will work”, the aspirant should say: “Given my present vantage point, it would appear that there are questionable, or at best, undemonstrable elements that might negatively affect the ultimate implementation of the integrated program.” This extended version is bound to baffle and impress those that need to read or hear it. Such expeditions into one’s Thesaurus can only guarantee promotability. Middle managers especially, would gain from having these added skills of confounding and flabbergasting.

Boren’s method is simple. From his large lists of baffling buzz words (and there are 270 of them!) such as “regressive”, “supervisory”, “relationship”, “restructured”, “fractional”, “conglomerate”, “facilitative”, one can easily write an imposing and profound inter-departmental memo such as “It has come to my attention that the regressive supervisory methods that once formed an effective relationship among staff, have been restructured in fractional ways to form an unwieldly conglomerate not more facilitative.” This is literally, amazing. Junior staff scratch their heads in outward admiration for such eloquence (but perhaps in truth, with inward bewilderment), and all share it openly as such, at the water-fountain. “Gosh, Bill writes well!”

Mumbling like this has its place, especially in government offices wherein fuzziness is not only a virtue but a means of protection from those who just want the facts. Or the buck to stop somewhere. These apprenticeship steps to political appointments at higher levels in the corporation, or even (God forbid) at the level of holding a public office, e.g., MP, MPP, make all voters happier through our admiration for eloquence (not for straight shooting) when bureaucrats are interviewed, or during the election process, respectively.

We have to blame the British upper-classes of course, for having developed the art of mumbling and circumlocution, to the degree it now possesses. After all, many British authors have included figures in their stories that portray this penchant for eloquent mumbling (Oscar Wilde, Dickens, Agatha Christie). Yet, my detractors may say that I have missed the mark, that this ‘art form’ is really conducive to a high IQ because of having gained a much widened vocabulary, or that success in life depends heavily on such an impressive degree of refinement. I suspect there needs to be a balance between mumbling for status sake, mumbling to exercise unused words, and straight talk. I will leave you the reader, to ponder Fielding’s comment from The History of Tom Jones, in which he says:

“Again, there is another form of knowledge, beyond the power of learning to bestow, and this is to be had by conversation. So necessary is this to the understanding the characters of men, that none are more ignorant of them than those learned pedants whose lives have been entirely consumed in colleges and among books; for however exquisitely human nature may have been described by writers, the true practical system can be learnt only in the world.”

Both “mumbling” and conciseness, have their place.