This site uses session cookies. These cookies do not record any personal information. Plain English Award nominees 2019

As part of our 40th Anniversary celebrations and to mark a new partnership – and in a slight break from tradition – we’re releasing some of our award nominees a little earlier than usual. We’ve also created some new categories to mark our sponsorship of this year’s awards. Please note that these are not award winners. Award winners will be announced in early December. considers 2019 ‘the year of confusion’ and we can only agree. There are those who have helped make some sense of an often baffling year, and those who have only contributed to the general bafflement. This early release contains a few culprits of the latter variety. For more plain English villains, and all the heroes fighting against obfuscation and gobbledygook, tune in again for the full and final list of winners and losers in early December.

Foot in Mouth

Joey Essex

“I’m very pleased. I wouldn’t change a thing. If I was a judge I’d give it a Michigan Scar.”

Richard Madeley

On Good Morning Britain, disputing a recent survey which revealed that one in six students are teetotal: “I don’t believe that…I think it's because everybody, students and the rest of us, lie about how much they drink. Apparently if you tell the GP how much you drink he immediately…or she… doubles it by two.”

Emma Watson

"It took me a long time, but I'm very happy [being single]. I call it being self-partnered."

Diane Abbott

During an interview with ITV:

Reporter: “Are you going to do anything about it or are you going to just keep carrying on as you are?” Ms Abbott hit back: “Look, I campaigned in the 2017 general election. People like you said we were going to be smashed. In fact, we had one of our best results for a long time.” The ITV interviewer interrupted to say: “Yes, but you lost the election."

Donald Trump

During a speech on American energy in Pittsburgh:

"We're building a wall in Colorado. We're building a beautiful wall. A big one that really works." Even though Colorado doesn’t border Mexico…

Boris Johnson

In a speech this year at West Yorkshire Police:

“Can you make a promise to the British public that you will not go back to Brussels and ask for another delay to Brexit?" "Yes, I can. I'd rather be dead in a ditch."

Phrase of the Year

Get Brexit done.

Numerous politicians disingenuously used this phrase to suggest a possible end to problems once we eventually leave the European Union, an end they know will still be a long way off. ‘Get Brexit started’, or ‘Get Brexit moving’ might have been more honest. Only once the UK is out of the European Union will the impact begin to become clear, an impact that will in any case be different and more prolonged for different parts of the UK. It’s the kind of sloganeering that conveniently provides the option of avoiding crucially important detail, an option many are understandably willing to take. Yet when we’re talking about something like Brexit, and the future of millions of lives, nuance and detail is everything. During the 2016 referendum, very few people had any idea what they were voting for (and even if they did, it almost certainly had nothing to do with those behind the ‘leave’ campaign). Many of those voters have since expressed dismay that they in fact voted for something they didn’t and don’t want. Since then, Brexit hasn’t happened for important but complex reasons, and the Government has failed to adequately or truthfully explain why. It has instead lied about Parliament, lied about its own findings about potential problems, and lied about its own objectives. As such, its use of sound-bites and empty slogans instead of clear explanation is particularly cynical and deceptive. We desperately need clarity on this matter of enormous national significance. With such clarity in place, voters would be able to make a more fully-informed choice in the upcoming elections.

It is what it is.

This was 2019 Love Island’s ‘whatever’, ‘innit’ or ‘not bovvered’, a nothing-phrase as multi-purpose as it is utterly meaningless. We don’t know what ‘it’ or ‘is’ means in this phrase, and the same could well be said of ‘what’.

It’s….Rebekah Vardy’s account.

Colleen Rooney became ‘Wagatha Christie’ for a pulsating couple of social media days and outed…Rebekah Vardy as a treacherous Instagram frenemy. Vardy upped the ante with a bullish and insulting response. Expect this phrase-coining spat to run into 2020.

#fail (for social media slip-ups)

Donald Trump

‘I meet and talk to ‘foreign governments’ every day. I just met with the Queen of England (UK), the Prince of Whales, the PM of the United Kingdom, the PM of Ireland, the President of France and the President of Poland.’

Ivanka Trump

‘Congratulations @BorisJohnson on becoming the next Prime Minister of the United Kingston.’

The Labour Party

‘Happy St George's Day. With the next Labour government, we'll celebrate the patron saint with a bank holiday and bank holidays for St Patrick, St David and St Andrew too. Sound good? Share the news.’ – posted on 22nd April.

Football Guff

Michael Owen

Michael is a pundit’s pundit: he makes all other pundits look good. This year Michael suggested, when asked who he fancied for the Champions League final, that Liverpool would take on Barcelona – despite the fact that they were already due to play one another in the semi finals. Michael Owen has seen a grand total of seven films, including Jurassic Park (twice).

“Barca and er….. Liverpool.”

Eric Cantona

Eric Cantona is a Manchester United legend. He’s also a reliable source of mangled wisdom and bungled attempts at profundity. We blame his baffling love of Jim Morrison’s atrocious poetry. Eric regularly launches into nonsensical longueur, and 2019 showed he’s still got it.

“As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport,” Cantona said, quoting King Lear. “Soon the science will not only be able to slow down the ageing of the cells, soon the science will fix the cells to the state and so we will become eternal. Only accidents, crimes, wars, will still kill us but unfortunately, crimes, wars, will multiply. I love football. Thank you.”


VAR was originally met – even by those sceptical of its introduction – with cautious optimism. Too often in the past games had been settled on the basis of highly contentious decisions, a missed foul, a missed offside, a misread tackle, marginal moments match officials either didn’t spot or misunderstood. Help was needed, and VAR was it. No more would games be ruined by an erroneous red card or a falsely-denied goal…

Please make it stop. It’s horrendous. It kills the atmosphere in stadiums. It creates long periods of excruciating limbo. It’s become something tiresomely meddlesome and too often misused, something to which referees have become over-reliant. Fans have no idea what to do while VAR is being checked, are never quite sure how to respond to the peculiar lull a VAR check necessitates. This is especially true at grounds where there’s no big screen to confirm a decision. It’s footballing purgatory. And it validates explanatory guff of the highest order.

Lifetime Achievement Award – for Guff Grandmasters

Boris Johnson

"Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a Titanic success of it."

"I could not fail to disagree with you less."

"Can you make a promise to the British public that you will not go back to Brussels and ask for another delay to Brexit?" "Yes, I can. I'd rather be dead in a ditch"

Russell Brand

"The internal mayhem I'm feeling is spilling out everywhere. I loved it, and felt very connected to activism - particularly activism that feels loaded with potential. Not the oppositional activism that seems like there's a stasis around it - earnestly sincere, but a monolith equal to the establishment."

“I am the parent. The parenthesis, the holding device to this little person’s life. You notice too that people come through you but are not of you.”

"This attitude of churlish indifference seems like nerdish deference contrasted with the belligerent antipathy of the indigenous farm folk, who regard the hippie-dippie interlopers, the denizens of the shimmering tit temples, as one fey step away from transvestites."

Donald Trump

"They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

“Hilary wanted to put up wind. If you have a wind-ville anywhere near your house, congratulations your house just went down 75% in value. “And they say the noise causes cancer. You tell me that one. OK.”

"We're building a wall in Colorado. We're building a beautiful wall. A big one that really works." Colorado isn’t on the US-Mexico border.

Plain English Awards

Joe Moran

‘First You Write a Sentence’

Rachel Burland

Online liver disease support

Irish Cancer Society

‘Spot Cancer Early’

NHS Scotland

‘Ready Steady Baby!’

Independent Age

‘Staying in Control When You’re Older’

Bryan A Garner

‘Garner’s Guidelines for Drafting and Editing Contracts'

Matthew P Hitt/Kathleen Searles

‘Media Coverage and Public Approval of the US Supreme Court’

The Kick in the Pants Award

Dominic Cummings

Torbay Council


The Media Award

Ian Dunt

Femi Oluwole

Kathy Burke

The Plain English Communicator Award

Led by Donkeys

The Byline Times

Susie Dent

The International Award

Greta Thunberg

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez

David Corn

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