During the month of December 2011, and also in January 2012, we’ll be discussing the topic of plain English.
On this page you will find a growing list of resources regarding about this topic.
If you would like to contribute with a link or links, or a guest post on the topic, please contact us, or leave a comment.
Plain English – our blog posts
Plain and simple
There is a tendency – widespread in officialdom but by no means exclusive to it – to jazz up language by replacing plain words with fancy ones for no good reason, for example with what Arthur Quiller-Couch called “vague woolly abstract nouns”.
Fuzzy writing, fussy reading
Too often people, including editors, treat minor slips as though they were terrible, shameful acts. … This can make people anxious about their language and nervous around editors. Criticism can be constructive and compassionate; why not keep the judgement and scorn to a minimum?
The fashion for inkhorn terms
The ornate style of writing was once in fashion. It combined elaborate syntax with a multitude of rhetorical devices and what became known as “inkhorn terms”. An inkhorn is an inkwell made of horn, and inkhorn term is what Michael Quinion calls “a term of gentlemanly abuse” that was applied to fancy words borrowed from classical languages during the gradual shift from Middle to Modern English.
Plainness and purity: wordcraft for the loreless
Barnes’ motivation was democratic rather than primarily linguistic: to forge an English that was accessible to the common people. He wasn’t entirely consistent … but, more importantly, he allowed his admirable linguistic awareness to take precedence over his primary purpose. Surely, even in 19th-century rural Dorset, school was a familiar word, regardless of its Graeco-Latin origin, whereas lorehouse would have required a considerable learning effort?
Plain English Awards – our blog posts
Plain bad language
According to the report, some tax forms are so badly worded that “unintentional errors” made by people filling them in result in around £300 million in underpaid tax each year.
Plain bad language – the winners
But before you run away with the idea that Plain English Campaign is solely about putting the boot in, they also recognize good practice. The Birmingham Mail received an award for being Best Regional Newspaper; the Forestry Commission’s pamphlet about Lyme disease won an Inside Write award, as did the Royal Navy for its magazine Navy News: “a good example of plain English written for an intended audience.”
Plain English Awards 2011
One of the recipients of a “Golden Bull Award” (for the year’s ‘best’ examples of gobbledygook) was the British Met Office. Their particular crime was to refer to ‘probabilities of precipitation’ rather than, say, ‘the chances of rain’.