FOR a quarter of a century it has sought optimum solutions to obviate impediment and ameliorate difficulties pursuant to maximising cognitive exchange within verbal and/or written interface. It has disseminated data with a high potentiality for obfuscation.
In short, the Campaign for Plain English, set up to cut through the "bull", is 25 years old today.
The campaign was conceived and co-founded in 1979, with the public shredding of official documents by Martin Cutts, a Manchester journalist frustrated by the amount of "officialese" and gobbledegook. Since then, the organisation has waged war against the likes of "grain consuming animal units" (cows) and "the unfortunate negative patient care outcome occasioned by the inability of the medical practitioner to satisfactorily resolve the scenario" (a doctor’s patient dying).
In the world of Mr Cutts, who now runs the Plain Language Commission, a used car is not "pre-experienced" and the poor are not "fiscal underachievers"; those leaping from aircraft use parachutes, not "aerodynamic personnel decelerators", a "hexiform rotatable surface compression unit" is forever a nut, and "vertically deployed anti-personnel devices" are bombs. "A traffic jam is most certainly not a ‘localised capacity deficiency’," he adds. The influence of the organisation has since spread to the United States, the home of "bovine detritus", Australasia, South America, Asia and Hong Kong.
"It was like bringing a baby into the world and watching it grow," said Mr Cutts. "Officialese and gobbledegook was, and still remains, a scourge, although there have been many victories along the way.
"However, we still get the 200-word sentences without punctuation in legal documents and the pretentious, who use three words when one will do, are still out there."
One of his favourite examples is a bus company’s instruction to its drivers, which reads: "Where passengers cannot be accepted because of the potential overload of the vehicle, you should inform positively of the situation and where possible appropriate information as to how to complete the journey."
"Loosely translated, that’s ‘The bus is full. Another one will be along’."
ALEXANDER Haig, the former US secretary of state, knocking back a subordinate’s request for more pay: "Because of the fluctuational predisposition of your position’s productive capacity as juxtaposed to government standards, it would be momentarily injudicious to advocate an increment."
A London hospital describing a bed: "A device or arrangement that may be used to permit a patient to lie down when they need to do so as a consequence of the patient’s condition rather than a need for active intervention such as examination, diagnostic intervention, manipulative treatment, obstetric delivery or transport."
St Helen’s Council, Lancashire, defining children’s play: "The freely chosen and personally directed enactment of a group of non-goal-orientated behaviours which become progressively more complex with experiences and which in themselves facilitate the development of an equivalent range of tools without which species cannot continue."
A store memo: "Due to reorganisation, basement will be on the second, half the second will be on the first, but half will remain on the second. First will move to basement."
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