Inside stories

The prose of official government reports hasn’t always grated on the ear.


Progress, it goes without saying, is not entirely uniform. Indeed, retrogression sometimes occurs, for example in the style of official prose. Where now it employs neologisms, euphemisms, and acronyms to the point of incomprehensibility, it was once clear, vigorous, and even a model for aspiring writers. Of course, in those days its authors were not so ashamed of what they did that they had to disguise it by the use of opaque language; barbarous locutions conceal a bad conscience.

Can anyone conceive of reading a contemporary official report with pleasure in its literary qualities? Recently I read the Report of the Commissioners Appointed to Inquire into the Condition and Treatment of the Prisoners Confined in Birmingham Borough Prison, and the Conduct, Management and Discipline of the Said Prison, published in 1854, not only with interest but in pleasure at the vigour of the prose, written by the three commissioners, . . .

Weekly update to the BMJ column (purchase required)

By the way, I just remembered that the British Medical Journal provides an extract for all of Dalrymple’s essays, so we can start quoting them without feeling guilty for giving away material that requires purchase. This may help you decide if you want to pony up the money for the essay.

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