Lost for words

door Regina Coeli

The writer and broadcaster, John Humphrys, advocates simplicity in communication in his book, “Lost for Words – The Mangling and Manipulating of the English Language”. He says that “language should be simple, clear and honest. Where it is not we need to ask why - and do something about it”.

Long-winded official writing

Here are some examples of long-winded official writing followed by a shorter, more concise version:


If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by telephone. 

 After  If you have any questions, please phone.



It is important that you shall read the notes, advice and information detailed opposite then complete the form overleaf (all sections) prior to its immediate return to the Council by way of the envelope provided.

 After  Please read the notes opposite before you fill in the form. Then send it back to us as soon as possible in the envelope provided.

 John Humphrys: “English is a beautiful language which should give us pleasure, not pain.”

Phrasal verbs

One way to enjoy the English language is to play with phrasal verbs. A phrasal verb is a combination of a verb and a preposition which can have several different meanings depending on the context. Phrasal verbs can be cleverly used to create humorous innuendo. Let’s take “to pick up” as an example:

  1. She picked up the pen from the floor.  (She retrieved the pen from the floor)
  2. He picked her up from the airport.  (He collected her from the airport.)
  3. She picked up a little Italian during her holiday in Rome. (She learned to speak a bit of Italian OR she met a small Italian man…!)

Have fun with phrasals and remember that context is the key!

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