Ian K.

This is my tumblr. I put it on the internet for you.


Alfred E. Kahn’s 1977 memo to his co-workers on the Civil Aeronautics Board

From Kahn’s NYTimes obit:

“If you can’t explain what you’re doing in plain English, you’re probably doing something wrong.”

With those words in a celebrated memo written shortly after he became chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, Alfred E. Kahn urged the lawyers and economists on his staff to express themselves more clearly when drafting board rulings and letters for his signature.

“Every time you’re tempted to use ‘herein’ or ‘hereinabout’ or ‘hereinunder’ or, similarly, ‘therein,’ thereinabove’ or ‘thereinunder,” and the corresponding variants,” he continued, “try ‘here’ or ‘there’ or ‘above’ or ‘below,’ and see if it doesn’t make just as much sense.”

“The passive voice is wildly overused in government writing,” Mr. Kahn’s memo to his Civil Aeronautics Board staff continued. “Typically its purpose is to conceal information — one is less likely to be jailed if one says, ‘He was hit by a stone,’ than if he says, ‘I hit him with a stone,’” he wrote, adding that “The active voice is far more forthright, direct, humane.”

The memo was a huge hit:

Though written long before the Internet age, the memo immediately went viral. It was published verbatim in The Washington Post, which also praised it in an accompanying editorial. It generated a marriage proposal from a Boston Globe columnist, who gushed: “Alfred Kahn, I love you. I know you’re in your late 50s and are married, but let’s run away together.” A Singapore newspaper suggested that Mr. Kahn be awarded a Nobel Prize. A Kansas City newspaper urged him to run for president. And, shortly after the memo’s appearance, he was appointed to the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, a position he held until his death.

(I think Kahn would’ve loved unsuck-it.com.)

Read / download the whole thing.

(Thx, blueink1026.)

  1. williampatrickwend reblogged this from austinkleon and added:
    This is great and will be something I show my Composition students in the fall…
  2. hereinandyland reblogged this from austinkleon
  3. miss-americaaa reblogged this from leftcoastjane and added:
    Yes, and one of my biggest pet-hates: the use of and difference between ‘maybe’ and ‘may be’.
  4. la-belle-laide reblogged this from leftcoastjane and added:
    As a novelist, I love everything about this. I think all writers can learn from this.
  5. leftcoastjane reblogged this from austinkleon and added:
    Oy, hard to read, but worth reading. I used the || pause thing. Stuff to remember when writing. E.G: Criterion,...
  6. wear-no-shoeshine reblogged this from austinkleon
  7. bbpratt reblogged this from austinkleon
  8. zachhald reblogged this from austinkleon
  9. thegreatestguyintheworld reblogged this from austinkleon
  10. kiloboxold reblogged this from austinkleon
  11. circlesoffire reblogged this from austinkleon
  12. meltrrron reblogged this from austinkleon and added:
    Thanks for sharing this. Great start to my day!