Finlayson embarks on jargon jihad

Last updated 05:00 18/01/2014
INQUIRY: Chair of the privileges committee, Chris Finlayson, said the probe would seek to
BANNED EXPRESSIONS: MP and Attorney-General Chris Finlayson.

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Here's a heads-up to staff in Chris Finlayson's office - he is passionate that they should not sloppily split infinitives, or use Oxford commas.

Ten pages of guidelines have emerged, setting out the language the culture minister expects officials to use in correspondence and briefing papers.

It is accompanied by speech-writing instructions, with a list of more than 20 banned expressions.

Staff are forbidden to use "heads-up" and should instead plump for "early" or "preliminary indication".

Also out in his language jihad are "process", "outcome", "community", "stakeholder" and "cutting edge".

Mr Finlayson, who is also attorney-general, harbours a special dislike of Oxford commas, split infinitives and any extraneous uses of "that".

"The minister has commented 'commas hunt in pairs'. This would, for example, look like this'," the memo instructs bureaucrats.

The guide reveals Mr Finlayson has a very strict style for his letters. The address must be preceded by eight to 11 blank lines, with four lines for his signature. The font should be Arial, 12 point, and centred. "Don't split paragraphs over pages," the guide warns.

According to the note: "Minister Finlayson addresses his colleagues, support party colleagues and people he knows by first name." Opposition MPs "should be addressed by their last name".

A two-page guide was also compiled for the Ministry of Culture and Heritage as "a list of pointers about things the minister does and does not like in his speeches".

"Use plain English. Avoid waffle at all costs. Get to the point quickly. State the point. Move on," it reads.

"I have always preferred the understatement," Mr Finlayson admitted.

"People use passionate when they mean like, or unique when they mean vaguely fashionable.

"It's like what happened in Rome when classical Roman broke down into vulgar Latin. The more intensive adjective or verb was always used over the classical one. And I have this objection to that happening to the English language. It's just my little jihad."

Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson said: "It's very useful for the minister to give his officials a heads-up, but I hope he is not taking himself too seriously."

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- The Dominion Post


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