In the words of Mrs. Merton, we’ve been having a heated debate.
I’d like to name the result the Audacious Cheeky theorum.
The theory states: A writer should choose the word cheeky over the word audacious, if and only if 95% of the readers probably won’t know what audacious means. The rest of the time, if you mean audacious, write audacious.
Of course, this means that I can only write that theorem in places where I believe 95% of readers will know what audacious means, otherwise it would appear thusly:
A writer should choose the word cheeky over the word cheeky, if and only if 95% of the readers probably won’t know what cheeky means. The rest of the time, if you mean cheeky, write cheeky.
Which is complete claptrap, but you get the point, don’t you? There’s a movement in business writing to help everyone (not just people who get paid to writing for a living) to send emails and letters that are more likely to be read. Sometimes it’s attached to a brand’s written tone of voice, but not always. I’m part of this movement, but I don’t join in with the extremists who want to ban long words where a short one will do nicely. Where’s the fun in that?
I’m definitely up for taking out pomp and blather, business bollocks, industry dialects and jargon that mean nothing to people outside the four walls in which it is generated. I’m all for using words that you find in a dictionary. (Recently I worked for a company who started using “onboarding” to mean getting a new employee settled in and trained ready to join the team. It got banned by their overseas chairman because if it wasn’t in the dictionary it wasn’t allowed. Good on him.)
Audacious and cheeky do not mean exactly the same thing. However, cheeky generally does the job. It doesn’t work the other way around. If a small child called you a fat tart (I’m from the north) you wouldn’t call him an audacious little monkey.
I also have a rule: never use utilise when you could use use. In this case, the two mean the same, but one’s a lot longer. Even better: never use utilisation when you could use use. Adding syllables in order to sound serious is a crime against good writing.
There is a point, of course. It’s this. When we are working on updating an organisation’s style of writing, let’s not get overwhelmed by simplicity. In English we have a bounty of beautiful words, some long, some short. In general, when we’re writing for organisations we’re aiming for clarity. We’d like our readers to understand us. (Although lots of people do seem to forget that and just love to burble on and on thinking they are impressing readers who have long since dumped their words in the recycling.)
Most of the time, using a short word makes your meaning clearer. At other times a lovely long word just nails it. There are long ones we reach for automatically merely because they’re the ones that our bosses’ bosses use. Ditch those. There are others that have an elegant nuance, a subtlety that the short ones lack. There are times when only these words will do. Use them, and if your readers don’t understand they can just go out and buy a dictionary.
That was cheeky.