John Humphrys – Lost for Words


Steering clear of leadership nonsense

A quick review of Lost for Words
In order to achieve optimal outputs, the bottom line is we need to step up to the plate, raise the bar, push the envelope and think out of the box 24/7! It’s a no-brainer!

If you’ve either been impressed or nauseated by hearing someone speak like that then perhaps John Humphrys’ short, lively book Lost for Words by  will be of assistance.

The English language is, of course, constantly evolving and incorporating new words and phrases. While we may not always be impressed by the new inclusions and redefinitions in the OED ( I was literally floored by the added definition of literally as non-literal recently) it’s not always a bad thing.

Often derided as a pedant, Humphrys, the BBC radio show host, warns us that things are changing and offers advice about what we should and shouldn’t be nervous about (like that sentence). After covering some basic rules he gets into the guts of his complaint: the need for accurate, comprehensible and effective language.

As someone who does a fair amount of speaking, listening and consulting, I immediately recognised some warning signs. For example, I feel a pressure to understand the latest sounding leadership-speak, even though the meaning of the dynamic-sounding words or acronyms isn’t evident. Not only so, but I feel a pressure not to reveal the fact that the speaker – who usually projects him or herself as bright, well-researched and competent – has left me feeling not so bright, significantly less well-researched and possibly incompetent.

This is a tendency that deserves the warning Humphrys emphatically gives us. Leaders, tempted to take verbal shortcuts to make an impact, face joining the gibberish-speaking classes rather than doing the more rigorous work of actually communicating well. It’s undiscerning, and even dangerous, to be swayed merely by how words sound – that urgency, that newness, that dynamic personality – and it’s also lazy to mimic potency rather than communicate ideas that are potentially powerful.

I was struck by a statement by Gary Day, quoted in the Times Higher Educational Supplement:

There’s no greater way to win the respect of your peers than to write in gobbledegook. The less they understand the more clever they think you are.

If you’re someone who works with words, whether a leader, speaker, teacher or writer, then Humphrys will have you alternately laughing and cringing.

We may not agree with his assertion that journalists are the ‘guardians’ of the language (journalists are ‘linguistic referees’) all of us, especially those who are involved in Christian leadership, need to heed the warnings in this book. We should aim for clarity, integrity and authenticity in the communication of our faith. Of course we should. You knew that already.

It’s a win-win. So let’s draw a line under it, do due diligence, and showcase best practice in the go-forward.

You disagree? Well, go figure!

For a humourous follow up to this review click here

You might enjoy other book reviews

CH Spurgeon – The Soul Winner
Doug Jones – Positioning yourself to Receive Healing
Jonathan Edwards on Revival
Philip Norman – John Lennon, the Life
AN Wilson – Betjeman

© 2009/2015 Lex Loizides


One thought on “John Humphrys – Lost for Words

  1. Mike Taylor July 20, 2015 / 12:32 pm

    The best (and briefest) summary I’ve seen on how to pitch communication is this twelve-word observation by the computer programmer Fred Brooks:
    “Present to inform, not to impress; if you inform, you will impress”.

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