“Forbidden words…include ‘stuff,’ …‘uh,’ ‘um,’ ‘you know,’ and ‘like’ in any sense but ‘similar to.’”

The best thing I read today was from John Petruccione’s advice on oral presentations:

“Use precise, rather than metaphorical, language; speak with the care of a scientist not the wilful obscurantism of a politician. The point is to communicate, not to convey an impression that you or the audience know more than you care to say. Define any technical term that may be unfamiliar to your audience as well as any term that you intend to use in a technical or extended sense. Forbidden words and expressions include ‘stuff,’ ‘something like that,’ ‘uh,’ ‘um,’ ‘you know,’ and ‘like’ in any sense but ‘similar to.’”

Here we have not only some good advice but also an indicator of a profoundly affective disease of our social and public discourse. If we cannot or will not communicate, we will indicate this by failing to speak with clear and concrete* vocabulary: we will convey the impression that we know more than we care to say.


*The classical Latin and Greek authors are sterling exemplars of clarity in word choice.


If we have not already identified in our own mind what we want to articulate, then we have no hope of communicating; communication is the act of articulating an idea by one person to another.

It’s in the air. One has to be on one’s guard against oneself.


About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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