Word Slippage: Just Plain Folks NOT!

by | Feb 2, 2009 | Plain Language Writing Courses, Writing Matters Blog | 0 comments

I’m a big proponent of plain language. Don’t say we acknowledge receipt of when we received will do. Use taxes instead of  revenue enhancements. But there’s a difference between using a simpler, plainer word in place of an inflated word or phrase and using a simple, plain word incorrectly. What’s got my dander up is the use of  folks to describe any group of people—including alleged terrorists.

It seems to have started with George W. Bush: “The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq are the ones who attacked us on Sept. 11.” It set my teeth on edge. But we are used to Bush mangling language (and facts!).

But Barack Obama—a wordsmith—seems to have adopted folks, too. He said about closing Guantanamo: “Part of the challenge. . . is that you have a bunch of folks that have been detained, many of whom may be very dangerous. . . .” It’s like the squeal of chalk on a blackboard. 

Terrorist and detainees are not folks. The American Heritage Dictionary  gives this definition of folks: “The common people of a society or region considered as the representatives of a traditional way of life and especially as the originators or carriers of the customs, beliefs, and arts that make up a distinctive culture.” And it defines the idiom just folks as “down-to-earth, open-hearted.” I doubt that even the lawyers defending Guantanamo detainees would describe them as open-hearted. 

Besides, when I hear folks I think of Loony Toons and Porky Pig’s signature closing: “Th-th-th-that’s all folks!”

So, that’s my final word on folks. Or as Bugs Bunny would say “And dat’s de end!”

— Marilynne Rudick (guest blogger)

Tags: Grammar and usage, Plain language, Tone, Writing


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