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Washington state mandate obliterates obfuscation, reaps cash windfall; even Ayn Rand would shun verbosity

I have a new favorite politician—Washington Governor Chris Gregoire. From the Associated Press’s article “Wash. state workers tell it like it is“:

In the 18 months since Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered all state agencies to adopt “plain talk” principles, more than 2,000 state employees have attended classes on writing letters, announcements and documents in everyday language.

So words like abeyance, cease and utilize are out, replaced by suspension, stop and use.

Good. Modern style emphasizes simplicity (thanks largely to Ernest Hemingway and William Strunk and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style). Most writing is meant to influence an audience; straightforward text will strengthen its impact. Rarely, however, has that notion been so tangible:

By rewriting one letter, the Department of Revenue tripled the number of businesses paying the “use tax,” the widely ignored equivalent of sales tax on products purchased out of state. That meant an extra $800,000 collected over two years by the department.

A cash windfall like that one even might have convinced the verbose but devoted capitalist Ayn Rand to cull 500 pages or so from The Fountainhead.

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