bad writing

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Attack of the arty barbarians


I spend my working life editing stuff. I used to work on a national paper, editing news stories about crazed axe murderers, cute squirrels, and sex-mad politicians, but now I wade through reports by academics and marketing analysts, and occasionally have mild hysteria at what they do to the English language. Today, though, the vandalism of this beautiful language has hit a new low.

I give you Professor Olivier Richon, head of the photography programme at the Royal College of Art, who says, on the college website:

‘The programme understands photography as a medium with no fixed identity. This disregard for a fixed essence is photography’s strength: no aesthetic purity but a multiplicity of rhetorical forms used for the creation of fact, fiction and fantasy. Equally the boundary between the still and the moving image is now fluid and porous, enabling new forms of image making to be created.’

Olivier, hang your head in shame. What kind of bollocks is that? Can you not write simple English? Or are you frightened that if you wrote clearly, your course would seem boring?

There’s more:

‘We have a fluid approach to image making. Whether still or moving, analogue or digital, the photographic image is for us a visual form that aims to be thoughtful as well as playful: an allegorical and thoroughly visual form.’

What possessed you to write such tosh, Olivier? ‘The moving image is now fluid and porous’??? ‘a fixed essence’ ?? ‘a fluid approach to image making’?? Wtf? (Calm down, ed). It’s photography, sweetheart, not hydraulic engineering.

And of course photography is ‘thoroughly visual’. What else would it be? Invisible?

A hydraulic pump

A hydraulic pump

A camera

A camera

Ok, so everybody who writes has their own idiosyncrasies. Tabloid newspaper reporters cannot resist talking about people living in ‘leafy suburbia’ or ‘a neat semi-detached house’, especially if they’ve come to a sticky end. Mums-to-be are always young, even when they’re middle-aged. Brussels is full of bureaucrats, and Whitehall teems with mandarins.

A mandarin

A mandarin

More mandarins

More mandarins

The health service no longer talks about doctors and nurses and patients, but medical health practitioners and end users. Query: Is that ‘end’ as in, ‘my end is itchy’, or as in ‘my end is nigh’?

Academics always love showing off how clever they are, and their day is made, it seems to me, if they can write things that no one else understands. Their theories are disseminated upstream and downstream and are transparently solid. They love to take perfectly respectable words and force them to do jobs they weren’t intended for. Let’s have a moment’s silence here for poor old sustainable and legacy, and high income demand elasticity.

This way of writing is not pretty, but I’ve come to expect it with a fatalistic shudder.

I understand that the people involved in marketing art have to talk about auras and experiental workshops. (I have no idea what it means, but I suppose they have to have an outlet for their inner demons.)

But, a multiplicity of rhetorical forms??? Get Out Of Town.

Professor Richon, don’t do this to your students. You wouldn’t jump up and down on a camera (all right, maybe you would in an experiental workshop). Use this language properly. Say what you mean. Don’t fuck about with something millions of people hold very dear. (Bet you’d have to something to say if I spray-painted the Mona Lisa.)

Here’s a thought; if your writing is bilge, then maybe your course is, too. If you can’t write decent prose, (just try, dammit), then why not put a photo on your website that shows what the course is about? (The one you’ve got at the moment, of a dog just about to pee on a ladder, is, frankly, bizarre.)

P.S. You spelt engagement wrong in the third par.

P.P.S. In your next attempt, spare some thought for the rules of grammar, too. Image-making takes a hyphen; and the phrase ‘for us’ is a subordinate clause, and needs commas; but your piece is so woeful, you need to start again. Really, you do.

P.P.S. Okay, I’m calm. Rant over.

Images via Creative Commons, courtesy of






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