This blog shares some of our thoughts about plain language, and the latest discussions about plain English and clear design in New Zealand, and around the world.

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08 September 2011

Shall we enhance?

At Write, debates about the accuracy of words are rife, and ‘enhance’ is one of our favourites. We categorise it as vague, euphemistic, and non-specific.

A computer geek who visited us trainer geeks one day barely got out of the office alive. He swanned confidently into our corner and cheerfully informed us that he had come to ‘enhance the functionality of our computers’.

You can’t get away with that sort of linguistic temerity with us. As one, we rose in horrified protest. ‘Functionality’ was bad enough, being a piece of IT- generated jargon, but ‘enhance’? Exactly what did he mean? The computer man became very nervous. He explained, carried out four separate adjustments on our four separate machines, and fled, a broken human being.

So I was ripe for the linguistic challenge put to me by a colleague. She’d discovered there was such a thing as an Eel Enhancement Company —and wondered just what they would do?

I said I’d pick up the phone and ask.

The person I spoke to acknowledged that I had the name right. ‘What do you actually do with the eels?’ I asked.

No response. ‘Do you make them longer?’ I pursued. ‘Or shorter?’ Still no response. ‘Thinner or fatter? Sexier?’ I wanted to know. By this time, my person was beginning to suspect a leg-pull and became reluctant to say anything.

I decided on being adamant in a last-ditch effort to gain clarity.

‘I work for a plain English company,’ I said. ‘We think businesses and organisations should use words accurately and be specific. If someone wanted to know what it is you do to eels, what would you say to them?’

And finally, the beans were spilled.

‘We breed them,’ I was told.


  1. Ha! Love it! ALL of it!

    I hate 'functionality' SO MUCH.

    I love word geeks.

  2. I think you might have inspired today's Dilbert: