Language characteristic of officials in governments, councils, and boards. It is often difficult to understand because of long words, abstractions, convoluted syntax, and high formality. It can come across as turgid, pompous, and plain incomprehensible.

One of the classic works on style is Plain Words by Sir Ernest Gowers (1948), written particularly for the guidance of civil servants. Gowers is sympathetic to the task they have of conveying advice or information that is often legally binding or at least legally delicate, with the obligation to explain its meaning to common people who don't want to know about the legal niceties or the reasons behind the strange language that law has to be adopt.

Over the course of the twentieth century officialese became much less prevalent, because of the exhortations of people like Gowers, and latterly the Plain English Campaign. Yet we are all familiar with the style and how badly it comes across.

Here are some pieces he quotes as typical in that to the ordinary reader they are almost nonsense, yet the writer felt they were saying what needed to be said:

Sub-contractors may need re-authorisation not only of sub-authorisations already given for period II and beyond, but also for sub-authorisations for earlier periods, so as to re-validate orders or parts of orders as in (I).
The non-compensable evaluation heretofore assigned to you for your service-connected disability is confirmed and continued

Officialese is not the same as legalese or commercialese but they overlap. Officials drop legal pointers like heretofore in. As Gowers says, "the official, living in this atmosphere, properly proud of the ancient traditions of his service, sometimes allows his style of letter-writing to be affected by it -- adverting and acquainting and causing to be informed. There may even be produced in his mind a feeling that all common words lack the dignity that he is bound to maintain."

As well as the call of the old there is the lure of the new. Bureaucrats are as prone to fashion as anyone else, and today, while our housing benefit forms and bank card contracts are in very clear, simple English, nevertheless our politicians and education mandarins and social policy wonks are polishing the chrome on the bandwagons. Gowers wrote, "A newly-discovered metaphor shines like a jewel in a drab vocabulary; thus blueprint, bottleneck, ceiling and target are eagerly seized, and the dust settles on their discarded predecessors -- plan, hold-up, limit and objective." Today the buzzwords may be different but there's the same quest for novelty and vagueness.

Commercialese may be intended to mislead, as in advertising, but officialese is not usually actively out to. But Pentagonese is a form of officialese with a fondness for outlandish descriptions of simple hexagonal bolts, plus the same sinister use of euphemism that business has: jobs are downsized, agents are liquidated.

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