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For Pete’s Sake!

The other day, I saw a story about a press release from U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. The release included a phrase like “infrastructural indivisibilities,” or something along those lines. I had a hard time pronouncing it, let alone understanding it–and I have an earned doctorate in English literature!

Like large cannons or ultra-formal articles of clothing, such phrases must be used sparingly and judiciously–in this case, to nail a situation with great precision, or to defuse another type of situation with laughter. Used indiscriminately, such phrases suggest either a tin ear or a complete lack of awareness of and sensitivity to one’s audience. Or, very possibly, both.

Fortunately for Mr. Buttigieg, an effective remedy is ready to hand. To prevent further embarrassments of this sort, all he need do is read, or have one of his staff read, press releases aloud before sending them out into the world. If the reader stumbles over a phrase, that’s a sign that the writer needs to go back and translate it into ordinary English. If he keeps up this routine for a few weeks, writing in language that’s friendly to the ordinary ear will become second nature. At that point, he will no longer need to read all his press releases out loud.

In the meantime, a simple suggestion for Mr. Buttigieg. Try writing (or having your dedicated staff member write) your next press release in monosyllables. Once you’ve managed to do three or four of those, you will never look back. No longer will people think of you as “Pompous Pete.” Now you will be “Pithy Pete,” and your popularity will soar.

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