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Wednesday, December 10, 1997 Published at 15:35 GMT


Plain speaking is no joke
image: [ Department of Trade and Industry's not-so concise description of a pram ]
Department of Trade and Industry's not-so concise description of a pram

Anyone told to "create a structure from indigenous vegetation" could be forgiven for not knowing they should be planting a tree.

If you try to buy what the Department of Trade and Industry refers to as "a wheeled vehicle designed for the transport in a seated or recumbent position of one or two babies or infants, any carry-cot or transporter thereof", you will probably not be sold a pram.

These are just two examples from the Plain English Campaign's latest hall of shame, celebrating the gobbledegook contained in official information, letters and publications.

The good, the bad and the downright ugly language were being highlighted at a ceremony in London on Wednesday where Plain English awards are handed out for the clearest words of the year - while Golden Bull awards go to the most confusing.

Comedian Harry Enfield is among those handing out Clearest Public Information awards to organisations like the World Cancer Research Fund for "Eat Your Way to Better Health" and Help the Aged for "Healthy Bones".

Those commended in the Best Media category include BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio Leeds and the Nottingham Evening Post.

Meanwhile, the 1997 Foot in Mouth award for verbal gobbledegook goes to this comment by a spokesman for the TV programme, Teletubbies: "In life, there are all colours and the Teletubbies are a reflection of that. There are no nationalities in the Teletubbies - they are techno-babies, but they are supposed to reflect life in that sense."

Ruairi Quinn, a former Irish government minister, may also regret describing his job as arranging "cosmopolitan homogeneous compromises".

The ceremony is not just a joke though, according to the campaign's director, Chrissie Maher. "Our Golden Bull awards are always good for a laugh and people accept them with good grace. But at the same time, there is a serious message behind them.

"By poking gentle fun at these examples, we hope to encourage writers to think more carefully about the language they use. It usually works." she said.

"People need concise facts on health matters. It is vital worried patients and families are given the clearest information. It is very encouraging to see leaflets and brochures written to such a high standard."

Since the Plain English Campaign was formed in 1979 it has persuaded many public and private organisations to clarify their language. It also takes up the grievances of people baffled by bureaucratic jargon, small print and legal notices found in official information.

Editor of the Oxford Companion to the English Language, Tom McArthur, said: "In all the history of the language, there has never been such a powerful grassroots movement to influence it as the Plain English Campaign."

The Plain English Campaign uses the following examples to show how even the most complicated language can be simplified:

Before High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.

After Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.

Before If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by telephone.

After If you have any questions, please ring.

Before It is important that you shall read the notes, advice and information detailed opposite then complete the form overleaf (all sections) prior to its immediate return to the Council by way of the envelope provided.

After Please read the notes opposite before you fill in the form. Then send it back to us as soon as possible in the envelope provided.

Before Your enquiry about the use of the entrance area at the library for the purpose of displaying posters and leaflets about Welfare and Supplementary Benefit rights, gives rise to the question of the provenance and authoritativeness of the material to be displayed. Posters and leaflets issued by the Central Office of Information, the Department of Health and Social Security and other authoritative bodies are usually displayed in libraries, but items of a disputatious or polemic kind, whilst not necessarily excluded, are considered individually.

After Thank you for your letter asking permission to put up posters in the entrance area of the library. Before we can give you an answer we will need to see a copy of the posters to make sure they won't offend anyone.

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