Tamsin Constable

Smoke out the baddies: plain language and the church

Here’s a fabulous example of the power of plain language.

It’s from the blog Diary of a Wimpy Catholic, talking about the church’s love of euphemism and jargon.

‘When it comes to conflict resolution, no one’s jargon is gummier or windier. Pope Benedict didn’t sack Marcial Maciel; he invited him to a life or prayer and penitence. Superiors don’t order their subordinates to shape up or ship out; nor do subordinates tell their superiors to take this job and shove it; instead, both express a wish to engage in dialogue. ’

Eagle-eyed US blogger Max Lindenman goes on, though, to highlight a subtle shift in a recent statement written by a regional priest on the alleged misdeeds of another church leader, Fr. John Corapi. Analysing the statement, Lindenman points out that it:

‘…uses only as much jargon as decorum requires. Corapi didn’t abuse substances; he abused drugs and alcohol. He didn’t have inappropriate relations; he had sexual relations… The effect is no less jarring or damning than it would have been had he called Corapi a cad, a cur or a mountebank. In fact [the author] deserves a special edginess award for using the term sexting, which has only been in circulation for a few years… [the] statement leaves the imagination only as much as it deserves. There’s still room to wonder which drugs Corapi abused, how much booze he could put away, and in what context these sexual relations took place — were they full-blown love affairs, or simple hookups? … [this] plain talk enhances his credibility. He wouldn’t make these explicit charges unless he was able — and ready — to back them up.’

Thanks to Lindenman for an example of how plain language can help smoke out the baddies.