Alfred Kahn's brave 1977 bid for clear corporate prose


The recently deceased (2010) Alfred Kahn was an economist and academic who was beloved for his notorious memo on clear corporate communications. Kahn wrote this while serving as chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, sending it around to his staff and fellow board members. He implored them to abandon phrases like "we deem it inappropriate" and to try out other such pomposities on their children to see if they passed the giggle test. He also railed against "data" as singular, the overuse of the passive voice, and the use "herein," "hereunder," "heretofore" and other archaic flourishes.
Early on in my career someone returned a paper I had written along with a copy of what was known as "the Kahn memo" which he had circulated in 1977 to his colleagues at the Civil Aeronautics Board. In it, Kahn railed against the artificial and hyper-legal language favored by bureaucrats and urged his employees to use "straightforward, quasi-conversational, humane prose." The key word here is "humane." It was our duty as public servants to write clearly, yes, but also with compassion and sympathy for our readers. Every now and then when I found myself lazily falling back on horrible bureaucratic gobbledygook, I could snap out of it by rereading Kahn's memo.
Alfred Kahn, 1917-2010 by Stacey Harwood (via Beth Pratt)