Style Corner: The Comma Splice

Welcome to my new, shorter blog, Style Corner.

As the name suggests it will focus mainly on style and usage and not on grammar; based on the idea that most contentious topics in business writing, and writing more generally, are not actually to do with grammar.

There are of course rules of grammar in English but not as many as people think; and to native English speakers and writers they are just that: native, innate, internal. To non-native English speakers and writers they have to be learned, yes, but the playing field is more level than you might imagine.

Native English speakers, especially those of a certain age and educational cohort, are just as likely as non-native speakers to be confused about what is ‘correct’ or not; and about whether the ‘correctness’ of something is a grammatical matter or a matter of usage and style.

Style Corner is intended to clarify some of the uncertainty.

Exceptionally, though, the first topic is actually about a grammatical matter: the comma splice.

Bank of England Future Forum 2017: Let’s Talk About Economics

Today I attended the Bank of England Future Forum event at the magnificent St. George’s Hall in Liverpool, a suitably opulent background for such an important occasion.

In recent years – as I noted in my blog on the Bank’s Writing Week panel ‘What Is Good Writing’ – the Bank has been making strenuous efforts to broaden its approach to engagement and communication with Markets, Economists and News (MEN) intermediaries, with the general public, and with schools and colleges nationwide. This was the latest manifestation of those efforts. All three sectors were well represented at St. George’s Hall.

There is still a long way to go, as every single one of the Bank Governors sitting on the Forum stage acknowledged. But the very existence of such a dialogue – which is what it was – would have been inconceivable a few years ago.

It is representative of the Bank’s serious intentions, driven partly by the demands and opportunities of the digital age, to re-engage with a mistrustful public. And to help lift standards of economic literacy of (and engagement with) non-experts to levels they have probably never approached.

Bank of England Writing Week: What Is Good Writing?

The Bank of England’s approach to communicating with the outside world is receiving a lot of scrutiny, both internally and externally. Only last month former Deputy Governor Howard Davies wrote in the Guardian that central bankers must learn to speak in plain language.

This article cited a speech given by Chief Economist Andy Haldane in March, which revealed some of the Bank’s internal thinking about how to re-energise its approach to communicating with the outside world, especially wider audiences.

So it was a privilege to be invited to join an internal Bank panel, ‘What Is Good Writing’, arranged last month as part of the Bank’s Writing Week. This was a series of internal events designed to elicit ideas and discussion on writing best practice; and on the Bank’s plans to broaden and diversify its communications with both professional intermediaries and the wider public. The panel was chaired by Andy Haldane, reflecting his prominent role in the Bank’s ongoing communications initiative.

Three panellists – Sarah O’Connor from the FT, Anushka Asthana from the Guardian, and I – were asked to share our perceptions on the Bank’s communications, our experiences as writers and editors, and tips on drafting, language and accessibility; followed by a short Q&A session.

The rest of this blog summarises some of the themes covered at the panel, without attributing topics or views to individual panellists.

Shakespeare to Seuss: literary connections at the Bank

The Bank of England’s literary connections run deep. Shakespeare, Dickens, George Eliot, TS Eliot and Grahame – and most recently, of course, Austen – are among the names who have either featured on Bank notes, or been inspired in their writing by the Bank’s awesome facade and interiors.

The TS Eliot connection I wasn’t aware of until recently. But it says on the Bank Museum website that he wrote much of The Wasteland while working across the road at the former Lloyds Bank office on Cornhill. I have worked in that building myself. So I can only assume that the view across to the Bank inspired him more than his Lloyds Bank surroundings, which are at best mundane.

Either way it was a nice surprise to chance on another, slightly unexpected, literary connection. This one was courtesy of The Independent’s reporting of remarks made by former deputy governor Minouche Shafik at the Hay Festival last May.

Those remarks highlighted that the Bank had been consciously taking a leaf out of the book of another writer famous for his humour, clarity, simplicity and common touch. And no, I don’t mean Andy Haldane, although he is (famous for those things).

I mean Dr Seuss.