Surviving Hopelessness Together, Surviving Fame Apart
A Spy's Guide To The "Elements Of Style'
At first it seems somewhat comical, but it makes sense that the CIA should not be any different than other large bureaucracies. I remember when I was tasked to answer all congressional letters for the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York. A certain condescending style was required with as little information as possible. Quite tricky, but quite important. Woe to me if it elicited a negative response from a Congressman.
So, the CIA also has very strict guidelines. Some seem trivial, but I would imagine over the years these seemingly minor rules have evolved from experience. Here are some taken from Quartz writer Michael Silverberg:
- Keep the language crisp and pungent; prefer the forthright to the pompous and ornate.
- Do not stray from the subject; omit the extraneous, no matter how brilliant it may seem or even be.
- Favor the active voice and shun streams of polysyllables and prepositional phrases.
- Keep sentences and paragraphs short, and vary the structure of both.
- Be frugal in the use of adjectives and adverbs; let nouns and verbs show their own power.regime: has a disparaging connotation and should not be used when referring to democratically elected governments or, generally, to governments friendly to the United States.+
tortuous (adj, twisting, devious, highly complex)
torturous (adj, causing torture, cruelly painful)+
while: as a conjunction, usually has reference to time. While the President was out of the country, the Army staged a coup. It can, with discretion, also be used in the sense of although or but. While he hated force, he recognized the need for order. Avoid using while in the sense of and.+
number of: a phrase that is too imprecise in some contexts. A number of troops were killed. (If you do not know how many, say an unknown number.)+
casualties: include persons injured, captured, or missing in action as well as those killed in battle. In formulating casualty statistics, be sure to write “killedor wounded,” not “killed and wounded.” (See injuries, casualties.)+
nonconventional, unconventional: Nonconventional refers to high-tech weaponry short of nuclear explosives. Fuel-air bombs are effective nonconventional weapons. Unconventional means not bound by convention.Shirley Chisholm was an unconventional woman.+
war crimes (n)
lay, lie: Lay means to put, place, or prepare. It always takes a direct object. Both the past tense and the past participle are laid. (The President ordered his aide to lay a wreath at the unknown soldier’s tomb. The aide laid the wreath two hours later. Yesterday a wreath was laid by the defense minister.)+
affect, effect: Affect as a verb means to influence, to produce an effect upon. (The blow on the head affected John’s vision.) Effect, as a verb, means to bring about. (The assailant effected a change in John’s vision by striking him on the head.) Effect, as a noun, means result. (The effect of the blow on John’s head was blurred vision.)1
disinformation, misinformation: Disinformation refers to the deliberate planting of false reports. Misinformation equates in meaning but does not carry the same devious connotation.+
celebrity copycatting: can lead one up the garden path because those emulated are not always pure of speech. A venerable newscaster persists in mispronouncing February (without the first r sound) and has misled a whole generation. Another Pied Piper of TV is given to saying “one of those who is”—joining many others who are deceived by the one and forget that the plural whois the subject of the verb (see one). The classic copycat phrase, at this point in time, grew out of the Watergate hearings and now is so firmly entrenched that we may never again get people to say at this time, at present, or simply now (see presently).+
Capitalize the W in October War or Six-Day War because either term as a whole is a distinguishing coined name, but 1973 Middle East war or 1967 Arab-Israeli war is distinguishing enough without the capital W. Avoid Yom Kippur war, which is slangy. Do not uppercase the w in Korean war, which was “undeclared”; the same logic applies to Vietnam war and Falklands war, and a similar convention (if not logic) to Iran-Iraq war.+
die: is something we all do, even writers who relegate world leaders to a sort of Immortality Club with phrasing like the President has taken steps to ensure a peaceful transition if he should die. Reality can be recognized by inserting in office or before the end of his term, or even by saying simply when he dies.+
Free World: is at best an imprecise designation. Use only in quoted matter.+
Use parentheses to set off a word, phrase, clause, or sentence that is inserted by way of comment or explanation within or after a sentence but that is structurally independent of it. This style guide (unclassified) will be widely disseminated.
Smoking Is Dangerous, But Not As Dangerous As World War II
In 1939, a German researcher published the first study that linked tobacco to cancer.
In 1943, two German scientist not only confirmed the previous study but established a direct connection between tobacco and lung cancer.
Further research linked passive or second hand smoke to non-smokers and tobacco. Hitler and his propaganda machine created an anti-smoking campaign. There were no penalties for smoking but it was not condoned by the Nazi Party.
As Tracy Brown Hamilton points out in the Atlantic article, "The Nazis' Forgotten Anti-Smoking Campaign" these efforts were made for the 'chosen folk' and not the Jews or any other 'sub-humans'. Nonetheless the harmful effects were well documented years before and many deaths after these studies.