Fighting for Plain English
Jargon, business speak, legalese, government speak, abound everywhere, and although we have ever-increasing ways to contact one another we are not really communicating. Many people speak, or write, at others, rather than communicating with them. Have you, on hearing someone speak or receiving a letter, or e-mail, wondered what the person was attempting to say? Though these people use English words, they might just as well be using a foreign language. This problem was the reason Chrissie Maher, a woman from Liverpool, England began the Plain English Campaign.
Chrissie grew up in very deprived circumstances and missed much schooling. She did not learn to read and write properly until after she left school. Her first employer kindly paid her fees for night school. Chrissie realized in 1971, that people, even those with excellent educations, were struggling to understand official documents. She established a plain English community newspaper, “The Tuebrook Bugle”, before desktop publishing, when only a select few knew the mysteries of newspaper publishing. This led to over fifty community newspapers and to Chrissie doing community work and teaching others clear communication skills.
Chrissie quickly realized, through her community work, that other adults, like her, had not had the chance to read and write properly and the only reading materials for semi-literate people were children’s books. She launched “The Liverpool News”, the first British newspaper for adults with reading difficulties. Its twin missions were to give adults something to read without embarrassment and to help them to understand the baffling language that public information documents used.
In 1975, Chrissie began working with the National Consumer Council, campaigning for plain English government forms. In 1979, frustrated by slow progress, she launched the Plain English Campaign and the annual Plain English awards, for companies and organizations, which use Plain English, and the Plain English booby prizes, for organizations producing the most confusing public information. The Plain English Campaign has gone from strength to strength since then and now many companies and organizations collaborate with “The Plain English Campaign” using its training materials and principles everyday. Since communicating effectively applies to any language and any culture, The Plain English Campaign has spread to many countries.
The Plain English Campaign’s awards are now so important, that television, radio and newspapers name award winners, taking particular delight in reporting the names of companies, organizations and individuals, winning the booby awards. One famous winner of the Golden Bull Award was the National Health Service Directorate, for their 160-word definition of a bed.
Though the Plain English Campaign has been very successful, there is always more to do in ensuring clear communication and fighting jargon, business speak, legalese, and baffling language. The Campaign’s latest target is self-important and meaningless job titles, a ripe target for the Campaign’s attention. Those incensed by gobbledygook can report it to the Plain English Campaign. People can also sign an e-petition to ask the British Government to introduce a Plain Language Law. The Plain English Campaign’s website has great information and resources on communication and language.
Many people think that using confusing language makes them seem intelligent or superior to others. Actually, it just makes them look daft. Talking, or writing, defeats its purpose, when the person receiving those words cannot understand them.