The Official Style
(from Michael Harvey’s Nuts and Bolts of College Writing)
Obfuscation, nominalizations, the passive voice, and long wordy constructions that muddy up questions of who did what have been
neatly labeled the Official Style by Richard Lanham, a well-known scholar and teacher of writing: "The Official Style comes in many
dialects—government, military, social scientific, lab scientific, MBA flapdoodle—but all exhibit the same basic attributes. They all
build on the same central imbalance, a dominance of nouns and an atrophy of verbs."
The Official Style is especially prevalent in bureaucracies, because their impersonality, rules, and formal procedures make expressions
of individualism risky. Even when it's not really necessary for protection or camouflage, most people within large organizations who
have to write serious professional stuff—laws, reports, policy statements, grant applications, police reports, and so on—automatically
turn to the Official Style, with its pompous, windy, inert prose. Eventually it becomes a mindless habit. Here is an example from
Maryland's Annotated Code of Law.
Any investigation, inquiry, hearing, or examination which the Board is empowered by law to hold or
undertake may be held or undertaken by or before the majority of the members of the Board or its secretary,
and the finding or order of members of the Board or the representative, when concurred in by the majority of
the members of the Board, shall have the same force and effect as the finding or order of the whole Board.
(Article 56, Section 497)