by Bill Kirton
Brace yourselves because, although I’m about to ask you to read just one sentence, it contains 157 words but only 3 commas and 2 full stops, one of which is there to indicate an abbreviation. So, with names, dates and other things changed to avoid being prosecuted by members of the profession of those who wrote it, here goes:
THAT, the acquisition by the Company of the remaining 73 per cent. of the issued share capital of Acme Trading (Soc) Ltd ("Acme") resulting in Acme becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of the Company (the "Acquisition") pursuant to the terms of (1) the share purchase agreement dated 23 June 2013 and made between the Company and the shareholders of Acme and (2) a supplemental deed dated 15 April 2014 and made between the Company and the shareholders of Acme the principal terms of which are contained in the admission document dated 15 April 2014 be and is hereby approved and that the directors of the Company be and are authorised to take all steps necessary to effect the Acquisition with such minor modifications, variations, amendments or revisions and to do or procure to be done such other things in connection with the Acquisition as they consider to be in the best interests of the Company.
Apparently, this is (verbatim except for the changes I mentioned), an ‘Ordinary Resolution’. It’s from a company to its shareholders and, obviously enough, it was written by someone legal (who charges hundreds of pounds an hour for writing such prose), and is intended to put up barriers which make sure that, whatever happens, no-one will be able to sue anyone about any aspect of it. To be serious for a split second, it shows the extraordinary protective power of words.
But enough of seriousness, its lesson is clear. The reason so many of us are not getting the rewards we deserve from our writing is because we’re not ordinary enough. We care about our readers, want them to understand what we write, and we use literary and linguistic techniques to achieve those aims. We respect punctuation, syntax, semantics; we value pace, rhythm, imagery; we seek stylistic coherence. But these are self-indulgent fripperies, a waste of time and energy. To be extraordinary, we must first be ordinary. So banish meaning, structure, literary pretensions and just herd your words into a tumbling, breathless succession of clauses which move you so far from your starting point that you can lead your reader down through circles of incomprehension to abject surrender and a catatonic state in which writing a cheque to make you stop is a blessed relief.