“Don’t be clever, be clear.” -Howard Ogden
I like to cook, and I like to try out new recipes. With a few exceptions, recipes are clear; you need this amount of these ingredients, and then you follow these steps to create the dish. Recently, I was trying a new dish which had, as one of its ingredients, “2 slices of fresh lemon juice”. Whilst I chuckled about how to slice a liquid, it was clear what the writer meant, and I put it down to poor proofreading.
A recipe is a prime example of something that needs to be clear, even though the results may be extremely clever creations.
This is not the case when we come to other areas of life. I am thinking of a website I sometimes visit, which has remarkable offers on items for sale. I go there because I like their offers, but the site itself is really a turn-off. Rather than a simple description of the goods for sale, there is a discussion between two cartoon characters, which bears no relevance to the product. To get details on the product, you need to navigate to other pages where this information is displayed. It is, I am sure, very clever. I can imagine the web designer saying that the old way of doing things was stale, and they needed new bright ideas to show how modern and different they were.
And yet, to me, it comes across as trying to be clever, rather than trying to be clear. If I wanted “amusing” repartee, I’d go and look for some, but I came to this site to find out about a special offer, and it annoys me that they don’t simply tell me.
I still sometimes buy things from the site, because I know from experience that their offers can be good value, but in other areas of life being clever at the expense of clarity can definitely stop one’s point coming across.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of trying to impress, and use words that are clever, rather than clear.
Instead of saying that someone wanted to cross the street, one could say that they intented to perambulate in a perpendicular fashion towards the opposite side of the thoroughfare. Both are technically correct, but the latter is an example of using words just for the sake of them, rather than to make the meaning clearer.
I always find that when I first learn about something, it is a muddle in my head, and I can’t always articulate what it is that I know. Only with real understanding can I explain it in clear terms, and for me, it is a sign that I understand something if I can make it seem simple.
There is a place for being clever, but the cleverest person is the one who can take something that is complicated and make it clear.