Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What did that say?

Today I read a news story on Yahoo! Finance (apparently from Reuters) that ended with this sentence (the "it" in the sentence refers to the IMF):

      "But it added the U.S. central bank must also be ready to "respond decisively" if inflation expectations appear likely to become unhinged."

Now, I've been speaking English for a few years now, so I'm  pretty sure the meaning of the foregoing is something like this:

     "But it added the U.S. central bank must also be ready to raise interest rates in response to rising inflationary pressure."

I'm just not sure why that sentence was written that way.

First, the only part of that sentence that appears to be a direct quote is the phrase "respond decisively," since it is the only part that is actually in quotes in the original story.  So, perhaps the IMF is attempting to avoid the appearance of doling out advice to the Fed by not actually saying the words.  So, the IMF uses a phrase that really doesn't say anything, since I can "respond decisively" by doing nothing or by doing something.

The rest of that sentence is a real puzzle, though, because we can't actually be sure whose words those are.  I mean, it could be the IMF, or it could be the writer's interpretation of what the IMF said.  Perhaps I'm just nitpicking, but it really bothers me that people do such a poor job of communicating, especially when communication is the job being done.  So, here's how I read that sentence if I interpret it into plain English:

     "But it added the U.S. central bank must also be ready to raise interest rates if it appears that people's expectations about inflation might change from what they should be."

 That sounds like a stupid thing to say, but it is, I think, a fair interpretation.  On the other hand, if the sentence had just said that the IMF stated the Fed should raise interest rates if faced with rising inflationary pressure is a real yawner; everyone knows that already.  So, let's try to dress up a dull and obvious statement by using flowery language to make it appear that we're saying something with real intellectual value.

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