Friday, August 24, 2018

Commercialese and its discontents

From the essay “Business English and Its Confederates”:

It is easy, far too easy, to write a letter in which occur all the well-worn terms, all the long-winded phrases, all the substitutes for thinking. Only rarely is it possible, for the circumstances usually need to be detailed, to achieve the brevity that a business acquaintance and I, fired by his example, once achieved. He sent a dated statement and the accompanying note:
“Dear Mr Partridge,
By return of post I sent a cheque with a note:
“Dear Mr         ,
        E         P        
By return, he wrote:
“Dear Mr Partridge,
That exchange of notes was, I maintain, business-like; my note admittedly a shade less courteous than his. At the time, he was at the head, as he still is, of a very large business.

Translated into commercialese, the correspondence would have gone something like this:
“Dear Sir,
    The enclosed statement will show that this debt was incurred almost three years ago. If it is not paid immediately, we shall be forced to take action.
    Yours faithfully,
        Managing Director.”

“Dear Sir,
    I regret exceedingly that this oversight should have occurred. Herewith please find enclosed my cheque for the amount involved.
    Yours faithfully,
Some days later, the cheque having been cleared the bank:
“Dear Sir,
    Your favour of the —th received. Please find our receipt enclosed herewith.
    Now that the matter has been satisfactorily settled, we should be glad to do business with you again.
    We are, Sir,
        Yours faithfully,
A fitting reply to that letter would be —. But no, perhaps not.

Eric Partridge, A Charm of Words (New York: Macmillan, 1960).

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