Fired up by Boris Johnson’s speech on Covid-19 yesterday, I felt inspired to write (read vent) about using language in the right way for the right people.

When addressing the nation last night Mr Johnson used obtuse and confusing language as well as words like ‘exponential’ which, let’s face it, is not an everyday word that everyone would understand. Why doesn’t he take into account people for whom English is a second language?

The other thing he said was ‘a stitch in time saves nine‘ which few people know the meaning of. It’s is old English saying from 1723 and caused such a stir on social media afterwards that the BBC had to write about it. To my PR brain, it distracted from the core messages.

Speaking in this way could alienate some people and annoy others. It is a marketing skill to place yourself in a customer’s shoes and write to that one person, personally, so it will be received better.

Every word is precious and if I was Dominic Cummings (who is likely the pen master of Mr Johnson’s speeches) I would run my speeches by a trusted and skilled person who would be sensitive to language and advise on making every word understandable.

Amendment 10.11.20 – Journalist David Aaronovitch writes in response to a recent statement by Boris Johnson:

David Aaronovitch@DAaronovitch “You have to admire Boris Johnson’s willful determination to speak a language that no one under 50 is at all likely to understand. Who comes over what hill? Why is a bugle tooted? Who knows but him, me and a few Telegraph readers?”