Who speaks the most gibberish, the worst jargon, the most twisted English and the biggest pile of gobbledegook? For the first time the worst offenders over the past 20 years have their own league table. And guess who's top?
When Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address in 1863, he thought people would "little note nor long remember what we say here". In that, at least, he was quite wrong, for his speech became one of the most famous ever delivered, celebrated for its clarity of expression.
His opening words set the tone: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
Few politicians could hope to match such eloquence. In a world where soundbites have become the communicator's hard currency, there is little to be gained from finely honed oratory.
Politicians now seem more likely to be celebrated for their inability to express themselves clearly. President Bush and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have both had collections of their colourful quotations published. And the same is soon to happen to the only British politician who could claim to be in their league - the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.
All men are created equal
(Prescott seemed to celebrate his linguistic inability at last year's Labour Party conference, telling his comrades: "I was going to have my own subtitles, so you weren't couldn't not understand what I was saying. But they've given up and gone home." )
Research by the Plain English Campaign has, however, revealed Mr Prescott to be in good company. No-one - not bankers or solicitors, and not even people who write small print for a living - has done more for twisted English in the past 20 years than the government.
The league table, published in full below, reveals for the first time how different professions line up against each other.
Each of the entries has been an overall winner in the past two decades; the categories are ranked by the total number of citations they have had over that period. Government departments and agencies are in that all important number one spot.
There is never a shortage of nominations for the campaign's annual awards, says John Lister, the man behind the movement. Its efforts have not been totally in vain - in general, he says, standards have gone up. But there is work yet to do.
"There's still an enormous amount of jargon being used - but people are more likely to complain about it now. If for instance their bank speaks to them in gobbledegook, they are more likely to change their bank until they find one that will use plain English.
"But when they're dealing with a local council or part of the government, they usually don't have any choice but to deal with them. So often people look to us to redress the balance."
Mr Lister is inviting users of BBC News Online to play a part by submitting any examples of bad English for this year's awards. (You can use the form at the bottom of the page to send entries - we will publish the best and send them all on to the campaign.)
So what does Mr Lister make of John Prescott's verbal dexterity?
"Last year we were in two minds about whether to give our booby prize to John Prescott or George Bush," he says. "In the end we decided to go for Richard Gere so as not to annoy either side.
"But if anything happened to Tony Blair, we might well end up having an international summit between Mr Prescott and Mr Bush. It would be the first ever Anglo-American meeting which would need to be translated into English."
Over to you. Send us any examples of twisted English you have come across, using the form below. We will print the best, and send your entries on to the Plain English Campaign.
|THE NONSENSE LEAGUE TABLE
|Winners in each category; categories ranked by number of citations
Hewitt and Co. Solicitors for a letter (1995)
|'I acknowledge receipt of your letter dated the 2nd of April. The purpose of my suggestion that my client purchases an area of land from yourself is that this can be done right up to your clearly defined boundary in which case notwithstanding that the plan is primarily for identification purposes on the ground the position of the boundary would be clearly ascertainable this in our opinion would overcome the existing problem.
West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (1982)
|'I refer to your recent letter in which you submit a request for the provision of a bus passenger shelter in Lidgett Lane at the inward stopping place for Service 31 adjacent to Gledhow Primary School. The stated requirement for a shelter at this location has been noted, but as you may be aware shelter erection at all locations within West Yorkshire has been constrained in recent times as a result of instructions issued by the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council in the light of the Government's cuts in public expenditure and, although it seems likely that the Capital Budget for shelter provision will be enhanced in the forthcoming Financial Year, it is axiomatic that residual requests in respect of prospective shelter sites identified as having priority, notably those named in earlier programmes of shelter erection, will take precedence in any future shelter programme.'
LONRHO, special resolution to shareholders (1994)
|'To lend money to any corporation, company, association, firm, body or person on such terms as may be thought fit and with or without security and to enter into any guarantee, contract of indemnity or suretyship and in particular (without limiting the generality of the foregoing) to guarantee, provide indemnities in respect of, support or secure, without or without consideration and whether by personal covenant or by mortgaging or charging all or any part of the Company's undertaking, property and assets (present or future) and its uncalled capital, or by all or any of such methods, the performance of the obligations of and the repayment or payment of the principal amounts of, and any premiums, interest and dividends on, any shares or other securities or borrowed monies of any corporation, company association, firm, body or person including (without limiting the generality of the foregoing) any company which for the time being is a subsidiary or a holding company of the Company or another subsidiary of a holding company of the Company or is otherwise associated with the Company.'
Value for Money unit of NHS for Welsh Office document (1993)
|'[A bed is] a device or arrangement that may be used to permit a patient to lie down when the need to do so is a consequence of the patient's condition rather than a need for active intervention such as examination, diagnostic investigation, manipulative treatment, obstetric delivery or transport.
Luton Education Authority (2000)
|'Excluded kids were being given go-karting lessons. The authority claimed the scheme was 'a multi-agency project catering for holistic diversionary provision to young people for positive action linked to the community safety strategy and the pupil referral unit'.'
AA Insurance Services Ltd (1987)
|'Whereas a written application and declaration has been made and accepted such application and declaration shall, the fee having been paid, form the basis of the Contract and we the undersigned accordingly confirm that under the terms of a master policy issues by certain BIA insurance Companies and a separate master policy issues by certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, such Companies and Underwriters being Underwriters of the Contract (together "the insurers"), in each case to Automobile Association Insurance Services Limited on behalf of and for the exclusive benefit of members of the Automobile Association, the Owner shall be indemnified against loss occurring during the Period of Cover in accordance with the terms of the said master policies a summary of which is contained herein for Mechanical or Electrical Breakdown arising in connection with the Vehicle Covered without recourse to contribution from the Owner except where specifically stated.'
|4. TERMS AND CONDITIONS
|'Except in respect of death or personal injury caused by the Company's negligence the Company shall not be liable to the Customer by reason of representation (unless fraudulent) or any implied warranty, condition or other term or any duty in common law or under the express terms of the Contract for any indirect, special or consequential losses or damages (whether for loss of profit or otherwise) costs expenses or other claims for compensation whatsoever (whether caused by the negligence of the Company, its employees, agents or otherwise) which arise out of or in connection with the supply of the Goods or their use or resale by the Customer and the entire liability of the Company under or in connection with the Contract shall not exceed one and a half times the price paid for the Goods in question by the Customer.
Lloyds Bank (1988)
|'I undertake in the event of any claim being made upon you thereunder, or under any increase or decrease thereof or extension or renewal thereof (whether for the same of for a greater or less amount), which you may hereafter make or agree to at my request, and in the event of the validity of such claim being disputed by me, from time to time upon demand to provide you with such funds as you may require to defend any legal proceedings instituted against you, and in default of my so doing you shall be entitled to admit or settle any claims or proceedings on such terms as you shall think fit...
|2. LOCAL AUTHORITIES
Tree preservation order by Tonbridge and Malling council
|'TAKE NOTICE that the Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council, in pursuance of their powers as Local Planning Authority under section 198 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, has made a Tree Preservation Order (a copy whereof together with the map included therein is enclosed herewith) in respect of:-...'
|1. GOVERNMENT DEPTS + AGENCIES
Dept of Education and Science (1986)
|'Burnham Category II/III courses may or may not be advanced and poolable. A Burnham Category II/III course which is not poolable is not poolable only because it is not advanced, ie it does not require course approval as an advanced course. It is therefore wrong to describe it as a "non-poolable advanced (non-designated) course." Non-poolable courses are non-advanced by definition. I think that the problem you have described probably results from confusion here.'
|Source: Plain English Campaign
Please include an e-mail address so the campaign can get in touch with you if they need to. If you do not want us to pass on your entry or comment, please indicate this at the top of your comment.
I tried to rewrite some of your examples into clear English. In most cases it is surprising how few words are needed - for example:
9. We can't afford to build bus shelters now, but we may be able to do so later. If so, those already planned will be given priority.
8. To lend money to anyone we like on any terms we like.
2. We are going to preserve this tree.
Of course, some of the others are untranslateable.
Taipo, Hong Kong
An extract from an internal company memo:
I am pleased to announce the Group organization. Consistent with the new organisation, this market-focused team is organised to grow the business. XXX holds an admirable position with highly respected standard enclosure products and standard cardframe products. The Standard Products Group's (SPG) business is marketed using manufacturer representatives and distribution channels. The global sales teams are all very motivated to grow the Standard Products business with the launch of new products and the promotion of existing products. Supported by dedicated marketing, new product development and finance, we are well positioned to provide the best offering to our markets globally. I invite you to join me in my enthusiasm and pride for this new organized focus to grow our Standard Products business profitably.
Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council Planning Application:
'the enlargement, improvement or other alteration of an existing dwellinghouse, the carrying out of any operations (including the erection of a building) within the curtilage of an existing dwellinghouse, for the purposes ancilliary to the enjoyment of the dwellinghouse as such, or the erection of gates, fences or walls or other means of enclosure along a boundary of the curtilage of an existing dwelling house''
I am just going to send £220 as it requests and hope for the best.
Rotherham, S Yorkshire
From a sound-bite on a radio station reporting the finding of a dead rat:
The rodent was observed to be in a deceased condition.
This statement, in relation to computer courses, is contained within a recently published Adult Education Brochure:
"Learners who have already attended a free course, may join a further free course by paying the relevant fee."
From a computer programming tutorial:
If you still don't understand how methods work, a look at the implementation can perhaps clarify matters. When an instance attribute is referenced that isn't a data attribute, its class is searched. If the name denotes a valid class attribute that is a function object, a method object is created by packing (pointers to) the instance object and the function object just found together in an abstract object: this is the method object. When the method object is called with an argument list, it is unpacked again, a new argument list is constructed from the instance object and the original argument list, and the function object is called with this new argument list.
James G, Rutland, UK
From a paper written by one of my politics lecturers, concerning Foucault's work:
"First, although both 'Madness and Civilisation' and 'The Birth Of The Clinic' refer to discursive as well as non-discursive practices, the relationship between discourse and social practice is not itself thematised by the methodoligical concept of the episteme."
From an article on clear website design - a marketing-speak howler in the last line: "After you've spent so much time, effort and money on your website the worst thing that can happen is that no-one comes to visit, right? Wrong! Even worse is that if people do come and visit, they leave and never come back. It's a sort of electronic you can lead a horse to water scenario."
We have just been told that we do not have a redundancy programme. What we do have is a scheme to identify and earmark staff in non-optimised positions with a view to encouraging and facilitating their departure from the business by means of financial incentive....Remember - NOT redundancy!!
Seen on a sign inside a self-service laundrette that closes its door at 10pm: "From 10pm on, only people that are already inside will be able to go out".
The sign as you exit Heathrow's Terminal 1 car park urges drivers to 'Use Both Lanes'. Quite how you can do that with one standard-width car I'm not completely sure.
Lorraine, St Albans
Using a Venn diagram (and a couple of headache tablets), I came up with this clarification:
"Advanced Burnham Category II/III courses can be pooled, whereas basic courses cannot.
As all advanced courses can be pooled, there is no such thing as a 'non-poolable advanced course'."
Extract from a posh DIY shelf instruction sheet:
"... Ensure that the outer face of the upper second shelf is correctly aligned with the perpendicular edge of the horizontal support bar which should be attached to the vertical inner sides of the wooden support which is attached in the aforementioned way to the penultimate shelf bracket."
A paragraph from a pharmaceutical company document outlining a process requirement. "The required system function of controlling and monitoring the PW100 generation package supply/return lines to the system constitutes a critical application where the quality of the in-process material receiving the PW100 could be impacted should the system fail to meet its desired performance attributes."
at they meant:
'The water quality is critical'
Terry R ,
For anyone who has studied artificial intelligence or relational databases these words will strike fear into their hearts. I've never understood what it means, but it's the only thing I remember from a year's course.
"The key is the key of the key key."
From a Coventry City Council report, circa 2001:
"There is a shortfall in income in this area that is not matched by a corresponding amount of underspending on expenditure, leaving a net overspend"
Paul Barry, Coventry
This in the Journal of Political Studies, Issue 44, from an article on two academic schools of thought: "Each has been assiduously burnishing its own paradigm."
Tom Wilkinson, Oxford
A patent claim for a lintel in one of the most famous English cases ever. Notice that this passage contains only one sentence.
'A lintel, for use over apertures in cavity walls having an inner and outer skin comprising a first horizontal plate or part adapted to support a course or a plurality of superimposed units forming part of the inner skin and a second horizontal plate or part substantially parallel to the first and spaced therefrom in a downward vertical direction and adapted to span the cavity in the cavity wall and be supported at least at each end thereof upon courses forming parts of the outer and inner skins respectively of the cavity wall adjacent an aperture, and a first rigid inclined support member extending downwardly and forwardly from or near the front edge adjacent the cavity of the first horizontal plate or part at an intermediate position which lies between the front and rear edge of the second plate or part and adapted to extend across the cavity, and a second rigid support member extending vertically from or from near the rear edge of the first horizontal plate or part to join with the second plate or part adjacent its rear edge'.
Harry Bentley, Cambridge, UK
I once saw this warning message on a computer screen: "Do not press NO if you do not wish to continue".
Mike Stoner, Reading, Berkshire, UK
Our staff magzine has just been rechristened "an internal communications platform".
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