Let’s stop the political communication faux pases

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Political communications staffers of Canada—unite.  Let us all agree to ban the below compendium of horrible, no good, very bad communications faux pases.

I like words.  They matter.

I speak English, workable French, and have a passing fluency in Christian-ese, legalese and bureaucrat-ese based on my upbringing, my legal education and working in government.  This means I am trained to hate particular jargon.

Political communications speech is particularly vexing, relying on clichés, overused phrases and some horrendous, but commonplace, errors.

Here are a few examples we need to expunge from our lexicons.

“I am humbled to…”

No, you are not.  I mean, unless you are, in which case we should be clear you mean you are “lowered in dignity or importance” or “decisively defeated”.  What you almost certainly mean is you are “honoured”.  So get this right, please.

“MP Trudeau”

This is wrong.  “MP” is not a title.  It is not like “Councillor” or “Dr” or “Mr”.  The correct way to use this post-nominal honorific is like “MD”: as in, the “Rt Hon Justin Trudeau MP”.  The “MP” part comes after the person’s name, not like some sort of title.  There’s a reason it’s called the “House of Commons”: the people in it aren’t given titles.

This issue is bad in writing, but it is particularly bad when spoken aloud.  So, call your boss “Minister” if they’re a minister, otherwise “Mrs”, “Ms”, “Mr” or “Dr”, if that is their actual title.  And never — please, never — “Mr Prime Minister”.  That is redundant, and American.

“X group is the backbone of Y…”

This isn’t so much wrong as overused, comically so.  See, for instance, Mr Will Ferrell in “The Campaign”.  I’m grateful to a former manager and editor for teaching me this.  It’s an easy thing to slip into but please do avoid it, and think of a better, unique way to pander to the group in front of you about their outsized national importance.

“I am proud to announce…”

You may be proud of the policy, but pride isn’t a virtue.  Pride is a vice.  Hell, it’s one of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Why would you admit to a vice?  Why would you use a vice as if it was a virtue?  Don’t do this.  Just don’t.

“Our government is committed to…”

This is both overused, and sounds funny.  If you use “committed to…” more than once per year, I honestly think you should be committed to an institution for remedial communications training.

“I am delighted to…”

This one is overused, too, but it isn’t a huge mistake per se.

But it can be.  The tweet is since deleted so I’m paraphrasing here, but former Ontario Opposition Leader Patrick Brown — yea, that guy — once tweeted something to the effect of “Delighted to discuss Ontario’s job losses”.  No doubt he was delighted to make political hay out of a poor jobs report.  But this is what the psychologists call a Freudian slip, and frankly Mr Brown should avoid any affiliation with Freud.

The word “that”

Think about this word.  I promise you, nine times out of ten, the word is not necessary.  Train yourself to delete it.  Use your computer’s search function as a final edit and go through.  If the sentence makes sense without the word “that”, delete it.  There, this means I just saved you a few words on your word count (you’re welcome).

These are my particular pet peeves; no doubt there are others.  In this day and age, when MPs read prepared statements from a piece of paper or an iPad into the Hansard record with the enthusiasm of hostage videos — but for their vigorous standing ovations, I suppose — expunging such incessant errors is an act of public service.

So, once again, communications professionals of the world — let us unite to raise the discourse by excising these basic, persistent and very bad communications issues.

More from Jonathan Scott   @J_Scott_

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