Plain English campaign news articles
High level Ploddledygook tops jargon charts with 102-word sentence
- Created on Friday, 03 July 2009 13:15
Plain English Campaign have a hot runner for their Golden Bull awards for 2009 with this 102-word quote taken from the Association of Chief Police Officer's (ACPO) response to the Government’s green paper on policing.
Plain English Campaign tells all governments to speak the language of the people
- Created on Monday, 15 June 2009 15:59
Repeated criticisms have been made by some MPs and the public, about the need for clearer communications from the Prime Minister. Plain English Campaign is responding to the call for our leaders to speak the language of the people. As part of it’s 30-year fight against jargon and gobbledygook, the Campaign is offering free plain English training courses to every MP and minister throughout the UK.
There are over 700 representatives of our nation in the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The documented MPs’ discussions in Hansard’s parliamentary reporting shows how frequently concerns are raised about jargon and bad communication. It is unsurprising then that these frustrations and confusion are multiplied by the time information reaches the public.
Chrissie Maher OBE, founder of the Derbyshire based Campaign says, “The word ‘gobbledygook’ comes from descriptions of government communications. The end of turkey talk is long overdue. Give us plain English. It’s clear, it’s honest, it’s what our government and our nation need right now.”
In 1983, as part of the Rayner Review, the Thatcher government reviewed hundreds of thousands of government documents. In 2009, efforts continue with two public inquiries about the state of public communications from Parliament and government offices. But it is time to take action from the very top. Once again, the Campaign recommends plain English training in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
The Duke of Devonshire, also Chancellor to the University of Derby, spoke from his home at Chatsworth in Derbyshire to say, “We have an individual and moral responsibility to communicate clearly whatever our business. It’s never too late to remember the basics of good, clear English, its part of our heritage.”
Peter Gallimore, spokesperson for the University of Derby added, “Plain English training sessions are being launched at the University this year for MPs, businesses, or anyone wanting to communicate clearly. It’s a great start to the plans for the University to work with Plain English Campaign.”
Clarity commitment in US loses small print
- Created on Thursday, 07 May 2009 17:14
Plain English Campaign sent a letter of support to the US President. We await the reactions of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, to the idea that plain English could bring clarity and honesty to the financial gobbledygook, whyich causes so many problems.
There are organisations in the UK’s finance sector who independently provide 'plain English' communications to the public. But there is currently no legislation that imposes shared guidelines for clear communications. People's mistrust of legal language and small print is a complaint we often hear at our offices.
Harriet Harman’s Equalities Bill was recently released with plain English explanatory notes to accompany the legal wording. It is a step in the right direction for the UK Government and Parliament. But no organisation, whether in the public or private sector, can afford to ignore any opportunity to renew the public’s faith in the communications of our leaders and experts. Legislation and small print exist to protect everyone involved. It makes plain sense to use plain language that can be plainly understood and trusted.
Chrissie Maher, founder of Plain English Campaign, says, “Everyone has the right to understand information they are given. Whether it’s about understanding the terms of your expense claims, mortgage terms or credit agreements, plain English can save embarrassment, time, despair and money. So bring on the plain English in the UK – it is our language after all.”
Scottish policeman calls for plain English
- Created on Tuesday, 21 April 2009 18:42
Plodding on with the jargon
Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary have received a pat on the back from Plain English Campaign for pressing the need for plain language. Chrissie Maher, OBE and founder of the campaign is adding her voice to support the proposal made at the 2009 Scottish Police Federation Annual Conference for "a return to plain English".
Press release archive
- Created on Tuesday, 14 April 2009 13:25
Plain English Campaign back Mourinho for England
Plain English Campaign are declaring their support for Jose Mourinho as the next England football manager.
The language campaign group recently declared him ‘football’s greatest orator’ and were asked by the media to comment on his ‘omelettes’ statement.
“He’s priceless”, says Plain English spokesperson Steve Jenner, “or at least, very expensive. He certainly lifted the level of post-match comments above the normal empty statements and clichés.
“We think he’d at least make life interesting during the next few months. After all, it appears the England team will have some time on their hands. There won’t be much football to talk about.”
Government ready to act on useless small print
Plain English Campaign supporters are claiming an important result in a long-running campaign to simplify small print.
The Campaign was recently in the news for claiming that many safety warnings are only there to protect companies from legal action. An influential joint report by the National Consumer Council and Better Regulation Executive provides worrying evidence of this.
The study highlights a toaster that comes with 50 safety warnings, including one that warns consumers not to use it as a heater.
Meanwhile, Plain English Campaign discovered an instruction booklet that advises users not to iron clothes whilst wearing them.
“We are acting to give the power back to consumers to make informed choices by rationalizing information and making sure it is presented as simply as possible,” said Business Secretary, John Hutton.
Plain English Campaign will be watching closely to see exactly what action he proposes.
Campaign Joins Times columnist in demand for straight talk
The Times columnist Rosemary Behan savaged a handful of government ministers in her column today. And Plain English Campaign is calling on ministers to heed her words as the Campaign Awards ceremony approaches.
She accuses Jacqui Smith, Hazel Blears and Dawn Primarolo of ‘blathering’ and ‘mechanical, mindless drivel’. Her comments come following an interview with Jacqui Smith by John Humphrys. In answer to a question about the charging of terrorist suspects the MP said “Well, the first thing to say, John, is that these form part of a range of proposals that we put forward for consultation before the summer and we are serious about involving people in that consultation, which is why we’ve had a series of regional seminars about this, it’s why I’ve talked to the Opposition, it’s why we’ve talked to groups about these implications…”
“All politicians – and particularly those in government – should take note of the Rosemary Behan’s comments” says campaign spokesman Steve Jenner.
“Listeners will not be patronised and newspaper readers will not accept platitudes. Plain English does not mean simple and meaningless – it means clear communication. Rosemary Behan cites empty phrases like ‘moving forward’, ‘actively reaching out’, ‘progressing research’ and ‘resolve to build a consensus’ as examples of mindless politico-babble. The old saying ‘say what you mean, mean what you say and stop’ has no more important place than in government.”
The Plain English Awards ceremony takes place in London on 11 December this year. Lenny Henry will present the Campaign awards.
Plain English watchdog applauds Parliament web centre work
The Parliament Web Centre has changed the design of the Bills before Parliament pages. Plain English Campaign has scrutinised these pages and declared them 'a great improvement'.
"This is clearly the result of testing and listening to feedback from people using these pages", said Plain English Campaign’s Steve Jenner.
"It is clear that Harriet Harman was serious when she said she wanted Parliament to communicate more clearly with the people. We applaud these efforts to make the path to reading and understanding planned legislation more straightforward."
No Ball Games; Plain English Campaign reveals first runner-up in run down to annual Awards ceremony
Leading language pressure group Plain English Campaign today release details of the first runner-up for a Golden Bull Award. The campaign group presents these for prize gobbledygook, jargon and other types of written rubbish.
A nomination which came close to winning a Golden Bull comes from Collingbourne Ducis Parish Council’s recreation ground bye-laws.
‘Where the Council set apart any such part of the ground as may be fixed by the Council and may be described in a notice board affixed or set up in some conspicuous position on the ground, for the purpose of any game specified in the notice board which, by reason of the rules or manner of playing, or for the prevention of damage, danger, or discomfort to any person on the ground, may necessitate the exclusive use by the player or players of any space on such part of the ground-a person shall not in any space elsewhere on the ground play or take part in any game so specified in such a manner as to exclude not playing or taking part in the game from the use of such space.’
“What’s wrong with ‘No Ball Games’? asks Plain English Campaign’s Steve Jenner
Plain English Campaign urges media boycott of jargon as Blears blurs language of sub-regional development
Plain English Campaign has slammed a government statement which refers to ‘worklessness’. It is urging a news boycott of organisations which feed the press and broadcast media with information littered with jargon and gobbledygook.
“So do we take it that from now on a low birth rate in an area will be referred to as ‘pregnantlessness?’ asks a Plain English Campaign spokesperson. “ And it isn’t the only example of abuse of language in this statement.”
The statement continues by ‘explaining’ that ‘The new plans will enable local government to transcend traditional administrative and structural boundaries and deliver solutions that cover entire commuter routes, housing and employment markets for the first time through Multi Area Agreements (MAAs).’
“Ignoring the possibility that entire commuter routes covered by solutions might be a risk to road traffic, this is a press release from the government. Plain English Campaign is urging media organisations to reject gobbledygook and jargon, wherever it comes from.
Plain English Campaign offers itself as language watchdog for the BBC
29 October 2007
Plain English Campaign is offering to act as ‘language watchdog’ to the BBC.
This follows a proposal made in a letter by Ian Bruton-Smith of the Queen’s English Society. Chris Woodhead, the former chief Inspector of Schools, Lord Guthrie, ex-chief of the defence staff and MP Ann Widdecombe signed it. The proposal is that the BBC creates a language adviser post.
Mr. Bruton-Smith has urged the move because he feels “broadcasting journalists are under more pressure than print journalists”.
“Plain English Campaign has extensive experience providing editing and training services for a whole range of organisations” said PEC’s Steve Jenner. “We would be ideally placed to provide this service for the BBC if called upon to do so.”
Plain English Campaign Awards take place at the Brewery in London on December 11. Lenny Henry will host the event.
Plain English Campaign declares Lansdowne report on Irish health jargon 'a public scandal'
29 October 2007
Plain English Campaign is calling for simple steps to be taken immediately after the Lansdowne report into health service jargon in the Irish health service.
Lansdowne Market Research found that;
- One in five people leaves a doctor’s surgery unsure about what their GP has told them
- 15% of people could not explain what ‘outpatients’ meant
- One in ten fails to take the correct dose of medication because of failure to understand instructions
- 60% are confused by the word ‘prognosis’
“Apparently 67% of people surveyed suggested more health information be provided in plain or straightforward English. Surely this is a reasonable request?” said Plain English Campaign’s Steve Jenner.
“Some UK health authorities have taken steps to improve the clarity of communication with patients. But these results may be closer to UK figures than some of our own health authorities would like to admit. In Ireland, some people are clearly not able to make informed decisions about their health and this is a public scandal.”
Plain English Campaign is inviting patients who have received baffling health information or advice to send it to email@example.com The campaign hopes to highlight any problems later in the year in an attempt to push for more clarity in healthcare.
Plain English Campaign announces closure of nominations for 2007 awards
22 October 2007
Plain English Campaign has announced the final date for nominations for their 2007 awards ceremony in London. The Campaign welcomes nominations up to October 31 at Press Office, Hillside Farm (Thorny Lee Farm), Combs, High Peak SK23 9UT. Anyone can send nominations by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Press Officer Steve Jenner explains the different categories. "We have positive categories for good use of plain English. These are very important in rewarding organisations and individuals for their efforts. The 'Plain English' category is open to any documents. We usually award around eight of these.
Previous winners have included NHS Pensions Agency for 'Pensions on Divorce', Winston's Wish charity for 'As Big as it Gets', and Inland Revenue for Starting up in Business'. "We also award the Inside Write Awards for internal government documents. Previous winners include The Prison Service for the 'Handling Stress' training pack and Home Office Crime Reduction College for 'Course Passport'. We also usually award around eight of these.
"Plain English Campaign acknowledges the role of the media in using and promoting plain English. We present Media Awards to best national and regional TV and radio stations and best regional or local radio station. We also present the Web Award for the clearest website of the year."
"But it is fair to say that we are best known for our Golden Bull Awards. "We award eight of these for gobbledygook and confusing language. It gives everyone a chance to fight back against the nonsense which is still all too common. We also award the 'Foot in Mouth' Award for a quote which leaves us baffled. Previous winners include Naomi Campbell, Donald Rumsfeld and Tracey Emin.
"We're looking forward to a classic year. We've already received some great nominations but we're happy to accept further nominations until 31 October. Plain English Awards Ceremony takes place at The Brewery, London on Tuesday, December 11. "Lenny Henry will present the awards."
Lenny Henry to present Plain English Campaign Awards 2007
15 October 2007
Top comedian and television personality Lenny Henry will present the Plain English Campaign Awards ceremony at the Brewery in London on Tuesday, 11 December.
Plain English Campaign hands out awards for clear English, media writing and broadcasting, and gives 'Inside Write' awards for internal government documents. It also awards the infamous ' Golden Bulls' for baffling jargon and other kinds of written tripe. Each year a public figure receives the 'Foot in Mouth' award for a baffling comment.
Lenny looked at the differences in regional humour in his recent television series, often looking at the way language can be used to make people laugh. "Words are really powerful and can be used as a force for good or bad. I'm really looking forward to meeting the award winners. Those who dare turn up, anyway!" said Lenny.
He already shares something with Chrissie Maher, founder of Plain English Campaign. She has been awarded an honorary degree and he has just gained a B.A. (Hons) in English Literature - both from the Open University.
The campaign will soon be releasing details of nominations for the Awards for this year.
Plain English Campaign slams early years 'failure'
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics show 40% of children struggle to write their name by the age of five. They also find it hard to sound out letters to form simple words. "This is a shameful reflection of the government's Sure Start scheme and other 'early years' initiatives.
The attainment gap between children from poor backgrounds and the rest hasn't changed either," says Plain English Campaign's Steve Jenner. "This is a spectacular failure of public policy. Many children will pay for this in terms of educational disadvantage for the rest of their lives. If you can't read or write, you can't access education in the usual sense."
Children and Families Minister Beverley Hughes concedes "Both we and local authorities must focus our efforts on improving the life chances of children who are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged".
Plain English Campaign director Chrissie Maher OBE is currently working on her autobiography. It details the fact that she could not read or write properly until she was in her late teens. An early employer paid for her to attend night school. Without this help, she would probably have remained almost illiterate into adult life.
The campaign's award ceremony takes place at the Brewery in London on 11 December. Lenny Henry will present the awards.
South West Regional Assembly accused of 'pretend democracy' by Plain English Campaign
Plain English Campaign has received angry complaints about a major consultation, from people living in the South West. The South West Regional Assembly (SWRA) is consulting local people about increasing pitch numbers for gypsies and travellers. But the consultation document is filled with obstructive and impenetrable language, and there are fears people will not be able to make their views known.
Maddy Simpson is a Neighbourhood Watch organiser living in Bournemouth and Poole - an area where 488 pitches are proposed. She told Plain English Campaign that she learned of the SWRA's 'Regional Spatial Strategy' (RSS) at a meeting at her local community centre last week. Members of the public were told they had 12 weeks to submit their responses.
"Sadly for us, eight of those weeks have already elapsed, as all responses must be received by 31 October." she says. "At the meeting a local councillor said he was disappointed at the poor take-up of pamphlets from the library. On obtaining the document I am hardly surprised as it is so off-putting. It incenses me to think that if the replies are low when the deadline passes, it will appear that the public weren't interested. In fact the opposite is true."
The RSS consultation asks people to give views on three statements. Here is the second of these in full:
'Circular 01/2006 Planning for Gypsy and Traveller Caravan Sites (February 2006) requires Local Planning Authorities to establish criteria for the location of Gypsy and Traveller sites in their Core Strategies as a guide to the specific allocation of sites in the relevant Development Plan Document (DPD). The circular requires local authorities to assess Gypsy and Traveller accommodation needs as part of the Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment (GTAA) process and to consult on those assessments with Gypsies and Travellers, both housed and travelling. The GTAA process has informed the RSS in terms of an overall assessment of need. In some locations it is expected that further transit provision will be phased in once significant progress at the local level has been made in meeting the need for residential pitches.'
Steve Jenner, a spokesman for Plain English Campaign, asked: "This is pretend democracy. How can a public body offer a democratic consultation and yet cloud the issues with confusing jargon and gobbledygook which people do not have time to decipher? This part of the consultation is headed 'Make your Views Count'. The word 'your' is the only word which doesn't have a capital letter. The implication is clear - 'you' don't count."
"We call upon the SWRA to extend the time period for consultation and produce a plain English redraft before it is too late. As it stands, it is nominated for a 'Golden Bull', to be presented at our awards ceremony on 11 December."
Lenny Henry will present the awards this year.
Plain English Campaign slams EU over 'unreadable' treaty
Giuliano Amato, the former Italian Prime Minister, claims the new European Union treaty is deliberately 'unreadable'. The lack of clarity from the drafters is such that 'any Prime Minister - imagine the UK Prime Minister - can go to the Commons and say look, you see, it's absolutely unreadable, it's the typical Brussels treaty, nothing new, no need for a referendum'.
Plain English Campaign condemns this as an act of deception by the EU.
Press Officer Steve Jenner says "Drafters of the Treaty have a real position of power. Mr. Amato was vice-president of the body that drafted the original Constitution so he knows about this. This is a damning verdict on the new EU Treaty and the intentions of the people who produced it".
"It is another example of language being used to confuse an important issue. Plain language is essential if we are to have true democracy."
Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague highlighted Amato's comments during a recent speech at the centre for policy studies. But Foreign Secretary David Miliband, speaking at the Labour Party conference, is adamant. He insists the treaty does not contain the kind of changes which would require a national vote.
The revelations come just months after PEC director Chrissie Maher congratulated Angela Merkel for writing the EU's 50th birthday statement in plain language.
Plain English Campaign rues departure of English football's 'finest orator'
Language group Plain English Campaign says it hopes to see Jose Mourinho's swift return to football following his departure from Chelsea Football Club. Mourinho, who refers to himself as 'The Special One', is well known for his love of using strange and overextended metaphors during press conferences. He is already in the hat for the campaign's annual 'Foot in Mouth' award as a result of his 'omelettes and eggs' comments earlier this week (see below).
"Not since Eric Cantona has a footballing figure had so unique an approach to the English language." said a Campaign spokesman. "Jose Mourinho is possibly the finest orator the English game has seen since Eric Cantona, and will be sorely missed." Last year, Plain English Campaign supporters voted Bill Shankly's famous 'life and death' line the best footballing quote of all time.
Six of the best Mourinho quotes
- 'I am more than unhappy. Unhappy is a nice word.'
- 'The moral of the story is not to listen to those who tell you not to play the violin but stick to the tambourine.'
- 'Usually, when you score two and concede one, you win the game.'
- 'Almost. But in football, almost is almost.'
- 'It's like having a blanket that is too small for the bed. You pull the blanket up to keep your chest warm and your feet stick out. I cannot buy a bigger blanket because the supermarket is closed. But the blanket is made of cashmere.'
- 'In the supermarket you have class one, two or class three eggs and some are more expensive than others and some give you better omelettes. So when the class one eggs are in Waitrose and you cannot go there, you have a problem.'
Former Prime Minister admits new Euro treaty is 'unreadable'
Giuliano Amato, the former Italian Prime Minister, claims the new European Union treaty is deliberately 'unreadable'. The lack of clarity from the drafters is such that 'any Prime Minister - imagine the UK Prime Minister - can go to the Commons and say look, you see, it's absolutely unreadable, it's the typical Brussels treaty, nothing new, no need for a referendum'.
Plain English Campaign condemns this as an act of deception by the EU. Press Officer Steve Jenner says "Drafters of the Treaty have a real position of power. Mr. Amato was vice-president of the body that drafted the original Constitution so he knows about this. This is a damning verdict on the new EU Treaty and the intentions of the people who produced it".
"It is another example of language being used to confuse an important issue. Plain language is essential if we are to have true democracy." Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague highlighted Amato's comments during a recent speech at the centre for policy studies. But Foreign Secretary David Miliband, speaking at the Labour Party conference, is adamant. He insists the treaty does not contain the kind of changes which would require a national vote.
The revelations come just months after PEC director Chrissie Maher congratulated Angela Merkel for writing the EU's 50th birthday statement in plain language.
Plain English Campaign join police red tape crusade
Plain English Campaign has written to Sir Ronnie Flanagan to offer their services to help the police cut red tape. He has appealed to avoid putting police in a position where they 'over-record and under-deliver'. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary also spoke out against 'excess bureaucracy' taking up too much police time.
"We often find that large organisations are slowed down by the nature of the forms they have to fill in," said Plain English Campaign's Steve Jenner. "We feel our expertise as editors could have a valuable part to play in freeing up police time. It can save massive amounts of public money as well."
Famously, Royal Mail saved £500,000 in nine months by redesigning their mail redirection form in plain English. British Telecom cut customer queries by 25% by using plain English. Many companies have reported a cut in customer service costs as a direct result of improving the clarity of their communications.
Plain English Campaign runs the Crystal Mark scheme for clear documents. It is also famous for awarding the notorious Golden Bulls at their annual awards ceremony. This year the ceremony will take place in London on 11 December.
Plain English Campaign warms to European plain language newspaper
Plain English Campaign founder Chrissie Maher has today announced her 'high hopes' for a European plain language newspaper. It is the result of six European countries working together to produce an accessible newspaper highlighting global warming. Each country chose a subject and produced articles for the paper.
Contributions were received from:
- the Netherlands
- the UK.
"This newspaper is really impressive," says Chrissie. "It manages to deal with complicated subjects in a way that most people can understand without 'talking down' to readers. There is nothing to stop the newspaper going on to become a powerful campaigning force. Over the next few years there will be plenty of decisions made by the EEC which will affect our daily lives. There must be a way that people across Europe can read and understand changes in the law. Hopefully the group that produces the newspaper will realise the potential and use it as a force for good."
The paper will be available in the native language of the contributing country as well as in English.
Plain English Campaign supports Nottinghamshire MP's war on small print
A Nottinghamshire MP is declaring war on small print to stop some firms exploiting people by hiding important terms and conditions. Broxtowe MP Nick Palmer plans to introduce a Private Member’s Bill in Parliament requiring that all contracts are written in black print on a white background and use a font size of at least ten points.
Mr Palmer says he wants "tighter laws to prevent people using language that’s deliberately written to confuse."
The Royal National Institute for the Blind is supporting the bid – and now Plain English Campaign has thrown their weight behind it. "We wholeheartedly support Mr. Palmer in trying to make this law," said Plain English Campaign’s Steve Jenner. "We hope that this will help us read important documents more easily."
"This goes right back to the origins of Plain English Campaign, which started out campaigning on this issue in 1979 when founder Chrissie Maher shredded huge piles of official documents in Parliament Square. It is good to see that our elected representatives are now trying to fight this battle with us. It’s all a little different from 1979 when Chrissie was moved on by the police! We even published a book called "Small Print" about twenty years ago which dealt with this matter. It is disappointing that twenty years on some things are no better and that there is still a need for Mr Palmer’s bill to become law." Mr Palmer welcomed the campaign’s support on this issue. "I’m delighted to have the support of Plain English Campaign. I know they are working on a broad front to make official documents clearer for the reader."
'Generation text' blamed as companies are forced to teach teenage workers the 'Three Rs'
23 August 2007 Plain English Campaign has highlighted a controversial Confederation of British Industry report. It claims that half of all employers believe that some teenagers are "unable to function in the workplace". This is because they cannot read or write well enough.
The report goes on to blame the obsessions of "generation text" with communication technology at the expense of clear communication. Director General Richard Lambert says "basic literacy and numeracy problems are a nightmare for businesses and individuals, so we have to get these essentials right." Businesses are being urged to consider courses offered by the Plain English Campaign as a possible solution.
"It seems young people are more aware of the communication technologies developing around them. Nobody would argue that this is a bad thing. But they seem less interested in the basics of clear communication and this is a real concern" says Plain English Campaign's Steve Jenner. "We have courses in plain English available on our website and would recommend businesses take a look at these. The web address is www.plainenglish.co.uk"
This report follows just days after it emerged that many universities feel forced to offer classes in essay writing. This is because many students who start degree courses are unable to write properly.
Plain English Campaign joins English standards debate as top grade A-level results top 25%
15 August 2007
Plain English Campaign has joined the debate about the standard of English in British schools and colleges, as government test results revealed 40% of pupils are failing to meet required standards in the ‘Three Rs’. The Government’s Key Stage Three tests showed that nearly 200,000 children failed to write in a formal style or spell words with more than two syllables.
This week also saw the publication of a list of writing ‘howlers’ collected by the respected academic Dr Bernard Lamb, who claimed that foreign students were better at spelling than their British counterparts. Yet top grade A level results have risen from just over 15% to around 25% in the last ten years.
'It is so disappointing to know that children are growing up without being able to read and write properly’, said Campaign founder/director Chrissie Maher. ‘Pupils need to be taught grammar and spelling at an early stage so that they develop good writing skills for later life. I couldn't read or write properly when I was a child and I know how difficult life can be because of this.'
''The shortcomings Dr Lamb referred to in his comments to the press are a concern to us as well. It seems that even 'well-educated' people do not appreciate the need for good, clear English. It is time the situation was sorted out.'
Plain English Campaign is developing a free online plain English and grammar course for schoolchildren, which it hopes to launch later this year. The organisation has fought long and hard to support standards in English, and famously gives Golden Bulls for jargon at its annual awards ceremony in London. It runs an internationally-recognised Crystal Mark scheme for crystal-clear documents.
Plain English Campaign urges clarity as advert watchdog raps skincare giant
14 August 2007
Cosmetic company Clarins faces criticism from the Advertising Standards Authority over claims for a new skin spray - and Plain English Campaign are expressing support for the stance taken by the watchdog. An advert for their Expertise 3P product claims the product formed an "advanced anti-pollution complex" for the skin. The press advert further claimed that "Clarins research reveals the link between exposure to artificial electromagnetic waves and accelerated skin ageing."
Clarins sent the agency details of their research into the impact of electromagnetic waves from mobile phones on skin cells. These studies were taken over six and twenty-four hour periods. The advertising standards watchdog remained unimpressed, saying "We considered that neither of those periods of time were representative of typical consumer experience."
Plain English Campaign has other concerns, though. The Advertising Standards Authority found the advert breached rules relating to truthfulness, substantiation, and fear and distress. "It is possible for advertisers to play on fears by using language which sounds scientific but is very vague. This can encourage someone to buy a product they don’t need in order to protect themselves against an unproven risk" claims Plain English Campaign’s Steve Jenner. "We urge companies to avoid this kind of approach to marketing and applaud the regulator for the position taken."
2006 Press releases
Campbell muddles her way to Foot in Mouth award
11 December 2006
The British supermodel, Naomi Campbell, has won Plain English Campaign's annual Foot in Mouth award for the following comment which she reportedly made in June. "I love England, especially the food. There's nothing I like more than a lovely bowl of pasta."
The Foot in Mouth award is given for a baffling quote made by a public figure. Past winners of the award include Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Gere, Alicia Silverstone and Tracey Emin. Seven Golden Bulls have been awarded this year, including one to the writer, broadcaster and academic, Germaine Greer. Fife Council won a Golden Bull for a confusing letter about bin collection dates. Wheale, Thomas, Hodgins, a recruitment agency, have landed a second Golden Bull for a job advertisement, having previously won one in 2001.
Broadcast journalist Mary Nightingale will present the awards at the Brewery, Chiswell Street, London EC1Y 4SD on 12 December 2006. It will be the 27th Plain English Campaign awards ceremony. Winners of 'good' awards include Harriet Harman MP, who has won the Osborne Award for services to plain English. Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine has won the award for the best national radio programme, while politics show This Week picks up the national television award.
Six organisations have won Plain English awards for clear writing, including The Essential Business Guide, which is the first comprehensive business publication to win the award. World Cancer Research Fund won a Plain English award for the second time. Six government departments have won an Inside Write award for clear internal communication.
Frankly Mr Shankly talks a plain game
7 July 2006
The famous quote, by Liverpool legend Bill Shankly, that football is 'more important' than life and death, has been voted the best footballing quote of all time by the supporters of Plain English Campaign. The pressure group, which campaigns for plain communication wherever possible, surveyed its 10,000 members during the early stages of the World Cup.
Campaign founder Chrissie Maher said "I am delighted, though not surprised, that people still find this quotation so powerful. Bill Shankly had a humour and charisma that lives on to this day."
The second-placed and third-placed quotes are more baffling than plain. Paul 'Gazza' Gascoigne's "I never predict anything, and I never will" was narrowly pipped to second place by Eric Cantona's "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea."
The top ten in full is:
- "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I'm very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that." - Bill Shankly
- "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea." - Eric Cantona
- "I never predict anything, and I never will." - Paul Gascoigne
- "They think it's all over... it is now!” - Kenneth Wolstenholme
- "Do I not like that." – Graham Taylor
- "I think this could be our best victory over Germany since the war." - John Motson
- "It's a funny old game." – Jimmy Greaves
- "I spent most of my money on birds, booze and fast cars. The rest I just squandered." – George Best
- "The World Cup is a truly international event." – John Motson
- "If Glenn Hoddle said one word to his team at half time, it was concentration and focus." – Ron Atkinson
Campaigners welcome 'plain English' bill
7 June 2006
Plain English Campaign today applauded the news that the Coroner Reform Draft Bill, to be published on Monday 12 June, will be the first bill to feature a plain English translation alongside every legal clause. Harriet Harman, the Minister for Constitutional Affairs, is responsible for the move.
Campaign founder Chrissie Maher OBE said "Everyone, from the general public to senior ministers, needs to be able to understand the laws that affect them. We have been banging at the doors of Parliament for decades, trying to convince ministers to make their legislation more accessible. I hope that this historic step marks the start of a renewed commitment to plain English and an end to indecipherable documents."
Campaign spokesperson Ben Beer added "We have always argued that plain language in the law is possible and this proves it. We look forward to the day when every bill produced in Parliament is written in this way."
Famously, Chrissie Maher was once removed from Parliament Square by policemen after shredding hundreds of public documents which were full of legal jargon and gobbledygook.
'Gobble' virus strikes fear into civil servants
1 April 2006
A deadly computer virus has been discovered which poses a serious threat to computers in council and government offices.
The ‘GOBBLE’ virus, discovered by an IT boffin working in Whitehall, infects documents intended for the general public, and removes all traces of jargon and other misleading words. Letters and leaflets that have been contaminated by the superbug become extremely easy to understand.
Systems security staff in offices across the land are working around the clock to protect their systems from the bug, but many are finding themselves powerless to resist. One senior technician at HM Revenue and Customs said “We don’t know what to do. I saw a set of tax guidelines shorten itself from 25 to four pages in front of my very eyes.”
A spokesman for Plain English Campaign, which is helping to spread the virus, said “We urge everyone who receives the GOBBLE virus on an e-mail to open it immediately and send it on to everybody they know.”
Is text messaging the new language of love?
9 February 2006
Plain English Campaign has discovered that this year, romantics everywhere will shun love sonnets and poems and will instead send their loved ones a text message. While Shakespeare turns in his grave, modern-day Casanovas will woo their loved ones with @]--[-- rather than the customary rose.
Millions of lovers will send each other e-mail ‘E-cards’ - ending years of tradition by revealing the sender’s identity in the e-mail address. Lines of love will be translated into ‘text-speak’ as romance enters a new era.
Campaign spokesperson Dave Smith said “Without meaning to sound ‘stuffy’, it does seem a shame that some people can’t be bothered to choose a nice card anymore. ‘WUBMV?’ isn’t as loving as ‘Will you be my Valentine?’. Mind you, it’s better than nothing I suppose.”
Ironically, a recent survey of the Campaign’s supporters revealed that the messages inside Valentine’s cards are improving. Lines such as ‘I love you more than chocolate’ and ‘Just for you, with so much love’ were considered ‘as plain as you can get’ by many.
To Russia with love
2 February 2006
English is the world's business language. No country is attempting to catch up more than Russia, where Dickensian English can still be found.
But all that is changing, thanks to the world-famous Plain English Campaign. Senior campaigners George Maher and Peter Griffiths – suitably clad for the Russian winter – are visiting Moscow this week. They have taken the message ‘Plain English is the best English’ to journalism students, academics and business leaders at a series of meetings at a communications conference in Moscow State University.
George Maher, the Campaign's 'roving ambassador' who delivered a lecture as part of the conference said:
"This is my fourth visit to Moscow. Last year, students expressed an interest in starting a plain Russian campaign. It would be wonderful for Russia if this came true. But our first concern is to tell people here of the great advantages of using plain English."
Conference organiser Irina Alexandrova said: "One of our biggest problems is that modern Russian usage is losing its ability to meet the communication needs of the different sections of our society. In this new era of international English, obviously it is important that the style of language is as clear as possible."
Professor Yassen Zasursky, Dean of the State University’s journalism faculty, said the Campaign's involvement "will be a valuable contribution towards co-operation between scientists and journalists of different countries".
Peter Griffiths, Plain English Campaign's Company Secretary, said: "There is great potential in the new Russia. English is the most widely used business language. But Russian business people don’t want jargon and outdated phrases and words in English-language documents. The clearer, the better. That is our message."
2005 Press releases
Rhodri Morgan puts Foot in Mouth for the second time
12 December 2005
Welsh First Minister, Rhodri Morgan MP, has won Plain English Campaign's 'Foot in Mouth' award for the second time in eight years. During a debate on policing, he was quoted as saying: "The only thing which isn't up for grabs is no change and I think it's fair to say it's all to play for, except for no change."
The Foot in Mouth award is given to a baffling quote by a public figure. Past winners of the award include Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Gere, Alicia Silverstone and Tracey Emin. Mr Morgan previously won the award in 1998.
Campaigner Dave Smith said: "We hope he doesn't think that this is part of a personal vendetta! Funnily enough, he won last time for the way he declared his wish to be leader of the Assembly, which of course he now is."
A 630-word notice, telling the public that a footpath had been relocated, has landed Halton Borough Council with a 'Golden Bull' award for gobbledygook. Plain English Campaign has also given Golden Bulls to Wanadoo, the Australian Taxations Office, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Development department at the Scottish Executive, Uk2net, Poole Lighting and the Central Manchester and Manchester Children’s University Hospitals NHS Trust.
As usual the judges had a tough time choosing the Golden Bulls. Spokesperson Ben Beer said: "We were flooded with entries this year, and it took us a while to whittle it down to eight winners! Halton Borough Council's notice is one of the most ridiculous pieces of public information we have ever seen."
Journalist and broadcaster Matthew Parris will present the awards at The Brewery, Chiswell Street, London EC1Y 4SD (Phone: 020 7615 1107) on 13 December 2005. It will be the 26th Plain English Campaign Awards ceremony.
Ben Beer added: "The Golden Bull and Foot in Mouth awards are a bit of fun, but there is a serious point that jargon and waffle are still around and causing people problems. Writing in plain English not only helps you to avoid an award for gobbledygook, it can help you save time and money by getting your message across clearly and accurately. Everyone has a right to clear public information."
The Campaign has also recognised other organisations for producing particularly clear documents.
Join the battle against gobbledygook! Plain English Campaign visit Ireland
9 September 2005
Plain English Campaign, the world's original and best-known language campaigner, is coming to Dublin on Monday 12 September for a 'Meet the communicators' day.
Chrissie Maher OBE, the founder of the Campaign, said today ' Ireland has taught the world how to use the English language well, through its literature. But even here, gobbledygook is lurking.'
Journalists, broadcasters, politicians and business leaders are being invited to meet a team of representatives from the Campaign in the Westin Hotel, College Green, Dublin, from 9.30am until 12 noon.
Spokesman John Wild said, 'We want to remind Ireland about the long history and success of Plain English Campaign throughout the English-speaking world. Our Crystal Mark was the world's first recognition mark of plain language. It is a familiar sight on public documents and official forms, and is a sure sign that the language used is easily understandable.'
Plain English Campaign holds an annual awards ceremony at which clear and jargon-free writing is recognised. The infamous 'Golden Bull' awards are traditionally awarded to the people responsible for the year's most confusing waffle, and are also presented at the ceremony.
Chrissie Maher added 'Most people in Ireland have a high regard for language, so we feel confident they will have many examples of gobbledygook for us. Ridiculing these is one way of getting the Campaign noticed. Over the years, in the UK, the USA and other English-speaking countries, we have made good progress in getting government and big business to use plain language.'
Know your front from your back
12 August 2005
Following a number of complaints, Plain English Campaign has contacted the Department of Transport about the national 'Blue Badge Scheme', which allows disabled drivers or passengers to park their cars near their destinations. Apparently large numbers of people are being fined for incorrectly displaying the card in their vehicles.
Several people have asked us to try and get the card's design changed so that it is clearer. At the moment, the card carries the photograph and signature of the holder on one side, with an expiry date and serial number on the other. However, the wording on the card merely tells the holder to display the card 'in such a way that the front of the card is clearly visible', without specifying which side is the front. Most people would reasonably assume that the side containing the photograph was the front, but in fact this is not the case.
Many of those who have been displaying the card the 'wrong way' have received penalty charge notices as a result. Some councils have been inundated with complaints about the card, though so far no attempt seems to have been made to change it.
We suggest that this disgraceful situation is resolved as soon as possible, and we will be glad to help the DfT improve the card if they want us to.
20 July 2005
Plain English Campaign today launched two competitions, one for adults and one for children, to while away the summer holidays. This forms part of its renewed bid to raise awareness in the UK about writing in crystal clear English.
The children's task is to write a set of foolproof instructions on how to do something from start to finish. From 'Grandad's guide to his mobile phone' to 'Making a cheese sandwich', the instructions must be clear, complete and concise – unlike many of today's instruction manuals. The best entries will form part of our 'Plain English guide to doing things' booklet which will be out later this year. The winner of the competition will be presented with a prize by a celebrity on National Plain English Day.
For adults, we are looking for waffle-free translations of banking correspondence, tax demands and other letters or forms that people have found incomprehensible. The best entries will be published in our 'Before and after guide' in November. The winner will receive a selection of dictionaries and other useful language-related prizes.
Plain English Campaign challenges MPs
14 July 2005
Plain English Campaign has thrown down the gauntlet, and is asking MPs to send in plain English translations of the HM Revenue inheritance tax return and the new Licensing Act form.
An avalanche of complaints has found its way to the Campaign recently as a result of the difficulties people have had filling in these two forms in particular. In the interests of public service, we are hoping that some MPs will take time out of their busy schedules to show that these forms can be made much simpler.
With hundreds of licensed establishments facing closure if they don’t submit an application for a new licence in time, and while bereaved families rage at the extra distress caused by complex inheritance tax returns, we think it is time MPs came to the rescue.
Time Ladies and Gentlemen please!
10 July 2005
Plain English Campaign has hit out at the new British licensing laws, which come into force on August 6. Thousands of licensed premises face closure if they do not abide by the laws in time, yet the application forms, guides and even the Act itself are so full of jargon and legalese that many licensees are unable to understand them.
Landlords and shopkeepers, who no doubt would much rather concentrate on serving alcohol to thirsty customers, have to wade through 23 pages of forms in order to retain their licences. Government 'help guides' seem to have only complicated the matter. Even some landlords who have managed to fill in their applications have had their forms returned because they were completed using the wrong colour ink.
Chrissie Maher, founder director of the Campaign, said "It is an utter disgrace that people are facing the threat of prosecution and closure, when they are not even in with a fighting chance of understanding how to apply for the new licence. It is criminal to destroy livelihoods because people aren’t familiar with legal terminology."
The applications need so much information, and the language in them is so complicated, that many licensees have had to seek and pay for legal advice in order to proceed. Whereas in previous years a corner shop would have paid £30 for a three-year licence, and filled out a one-page form, many stores with small profit margins are considering whether to continue selling alcohol at all, with some facing fees of up to £900.
The Licensing Act 2003 has been brought in to prevent crime and disorder, as well as promoting public safety, which will ultimately result in better conditions for licensees. However it seems to be alienating them as a result, as many remain in the dark as to what to do. Some councils fear as little as 10% of premises will be able to trade after the deadline.
Maher suggests that "if the Government wanted compliance on this issue, they should have run the forms past the Campaign".
With August 6 only eight weeks away, they are already far too late.
Glazer document suggestion
12 June 2005
Following Malcolm Glazer's takeover of Manchester United Football Club, he sent the club's shareholders a letter detailing his offer to buy their shares in order to seize a larger stake in the club. The offer document was full of legalese, jargon and incomprehensible sentences which only served to further alienate the club's supporters. We attempted to rewrite one section of the document, which told how Glazer's company were going to pay for the shares. We also provided some explanations of some of the legal terms contained in the document.
How we will pay for the shares
We will form a joint venture called Red Joint Venture.
It will be financed by money subscribed by:
- Citadel Horizon S.a.r.l;
- funds managed by Perry Capital Limited; and
- funds managed by OZ Management, L.L.C.
The money will be invested in up to £275million of preferred securities in Red Joint Venture. Red will use these funds to buy Manchester United shares.
These preferred securities will mature (become due for payment) by 30 April 2020 at the latest.
Holders of preferred securities can ask for them to be redeemed (paid back) earlier if certain defaults (failures to do something the law requires) take place.
At any time after the share offer has closed, Red Joint Venture can ask that the preferred securities are redeemed (paid back). There may be a premium (an extra amount) to pay if the voluntary redemption happens on or before 12 May 2007.
No cash will be paid for preferred securities until they are redeemed. Holders of preferred securities cannot ask for them to be redeemed by any members of the Manchester United Group. Preferred securities will not be paid until all other creditors have been paid.
The preferred securities are guaranteed by Red Shareholder. In certain circumstances, they also have enforcement rights against Red Shareholder's shares in Red Joint Venture. These circumstances include Red Shareholder defaulting by not redeeming some or all of the preferred securities within 63 months from 12 May 2005.
These are some of the words that needed explaining
- Encumbrances - A right or interest over land and the right is owned by someone other than the landowner.
- Irrevocable - Cannot be stopped.
- Lien - The right to keep possession of something owned by someone else who owes you money, until the debt has been settled.
- Mutatis mutandis - The changes needed have been made.
- Unamortised balance - The remaining balance of a fixed asset (such as a building or patent) still to be written off in an organisation's books.
- Red - The company which bought the 75736960 shares owned by Cubic.
- Red Football Partnership - The organisation which first bought Manchester United shares for the Glazer family.
- Red junior - A company owned by Red.
Glazer bid document to shareholders
2 June 2005
Plain English Campaign calls for a crystal-clear summary of Malcolm Glazer's bid for Manchester United FC.
The Glazer family have to help the supporters by issuing a single sheet summary. They shouldn't have to plough their way through 74 pages of legalistic and financial jargon. This document should have been simplified.
You can't fight what you don't understand.
The shareholders should be able to read, understand and act upon a document such as this, which will have such a big impact on what is so close to their heart!
2004 Press releases
Let's box: Campaign offers manufacturers a bunch of fives
14 December 2004
Plain English Campaigners have issued a Christmas charter of five facts that are too often missing from the packaging of popular presents. And they warned manufacturers that these missing details could bite into their Christmas profits.
"In the past, we've concentrated on the problems of confusing instruction manuals at Christmas," founder director Chrissie Maher said. "But this year our supporters told us they were having more and more trouble choosing suitable presents because the box was missing important detail."
According to the Campaign's supporters, the five questions every Christmas gift's packaging should answer are as follows.
- Do I need anything else before I can use this gift?
- Does the gift need batteries, and are they included?
- What age is the gift suitable for?
- Is there any health or safety information I need to know?
- How long will it take from opening the box till the gift is ready to use?
"Any manufacturer that doesn't include this information risks double trouble," Chrissie warned. "Customers might simply decide not to buy the present if they can't get answers to these questions. And if they do buy it and the missing information leads to Christmas morning misery, they may well take it back for a refund. That's the last thing busy shops need during the sales season!"
Boris Johnson, British Airways and the European Commission honoured at awards
3 December 2004
Boris Johnson MP has won Plain English Campaign's annual 'Foot in Mouth' award for the most baffling statement by a public figure. And eight organisations have won 'Golden Bull' booby prizes for gobbledygook. But campaigners praised other organisations for producing particularly clear documents.
Broadcaster and journalist Ian Hislop will host the Campaign's 25th annual awards ceremony in London on Monday (6 December) to mark Plain English Day. The Campaign is a pressure group fighting to get public information written in clear and straightforward language.
Speaking on the 12 December 2003 edition of BBC TV quiz Have I Got News For You?, Mr Johnson said, "I could not fail to disagree with you less."
Campaign spokesman John Lister said, "We're sure Boris was just having fun, but this year's award is a linguistic safety warning. We urge everyone else to leave this type of gobbledygook to the experts!"
Previous winners of the award include Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Gere, Alicia Silverstone and Tracey Emin.
The Golden Bull winners are Bank of Scotland, British Airways, the Department of Health, the European Commission, the GENIUS project (based at the University of Reading), Panorama Software, Trilogy Telecom and TriMedia.
The judges had a tough time choosing the Golden Bulls this year, John Lister said. "The first time we picked all the 'definite' winners, we chose 25 documents. This might have accurately reflected the state of public communication today, but it would have made the ceremony unbearably long!
"We try to have fun with our awards, but people aren't so amused when they have to deal with inappropriate jargon, waffle and gobbledygook from day to day. Writing in plain English doesn't just help you avoid a Golden Bull trophy - it can help you save you time and money by getting your message across quickly and accurately."
Schwarzenegger asked to terminate jargon
9 September 2004
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, may soon order the state's workers to use plain English - nine months after he narrowly missed out on the Foot in Mouth award for baffling comments.
He has been given a draft executive order after a government review condemned longwinded sentences such as "No person shall exercise the privilege or perform any act which a licensee may exercise or perform under the authority of a license unless the person is authorized to do so by a license issued pursuant to this division."
Or to put it another way "You can't do this without a license."
Among the other cases highlighted by the review was an employment form asking "Did you work or earn any money, whether you were paid or not?" Helpline staff said they received calls about this question from confused readers every day.
The draft order says "Californians who better understand their government are more likely to trust it and feel a part of it." It recommends "the use of common everyday words, the use of personal pronouns, the active voice, easy-to-read design, short sentences, descriptive headlines and sub-headlines and avoiding jargon, technical terms, acronyms and other abbreviations."
Last December, Mr Schwarzenegger was named a runner-up in Plain English Campaign's Foot in Mouth award for his comment that "I think that gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman".
Chrissie Maher, founder director of the Campaign, said "If you think I'm brave enough to call him a reformed character, you must be crazy! But seriously, we hope Arnold follows the advice to wipe out government jargon - and after he leaves office, perhaps we can get him over here to lean on the British wafflers!"
Plain English Campaign celebrates 25 years of fighting gobbledygook
23 July 2004
Plain English Campaign is 25 years old this Monday (26 July). To mark the occasion, supporters around the world have voted a draft law from 1998 as their favourite example of gobbledygook from the Campaign's history. And they are thanking writers who make the effort to communicate clearly.
The draft National Minimum Wage Regulations, which supporters picked as their favourite example, defined "non-hours work" with the memorable phrase: "the hours of non-hours work worked by a worker in a pay reference period shall be the total of the number of hours spent by him during the pay reference period in carrying out the duties required of him under his contract to do non-hours work."
The extract was one of 10 chosen for a shortlist by Campaign supporter Kieran Lefort, who was born on 26 July 1979 the day the Campaign was launched. Visitors to the Campaign's website (www.plainenglish.co.uk) then voted for the winner.
Second place went to a 1989 document by STC Technology Limited which explained that "There is an unavoidable conflict of terminology in naming the classes Class and Instantation. Instantation is not itself a real instance but a class (namely, the class of all real instances). Likewise, Class is not a class of real instances but a class of classes (namely, the class of all classes of real instances). Instantation could be renamed Class and Class renamed Type to avoid this. In that case, the members of Class would not be classes and the members of Type would not be types."
And third place went to a 143-word sentence in a 1982 letter from the Department of Health and Social Security. "From and including 26.2.81 an additional component is payable at the weekly rate of 5p which is the rate appropriate to 11/4% of the amount of the surpluses in the earnings factors for 3 years in the claimant's working life after reduction on account of his guaranteed minimum pension of £2.04 (the guaranteed minimum pension was originally notified to the claimant as £1.99 and has subsequently been amended to £2.04) (Social Security Pensions Act 1975 Section 6 and 29 (1) and the Social Security (Earnings Factor) Regulations reg 2 and the Schedule) and graduated retirement benefit at the weekly rate of £2.37 (£2.58 from 26.2.81) which is the amount appropriate to 67 units of graduated contributions paid or treated as paid by the claimant (National Insurance Act 1965 Section 36 and the Social Security (Graduated Retirement Benefit) (No.2) Regulations reg 3 (3) and Schedule 1)."
Campaign spokesman John Lister said the draft minimum wage law was a surprise choice. "It's not the type of jargon-riddled, overly-complicated sentence that we normally think of when we talk about gobbledygook. But it's certainly very memorable: it shows that even everyday words of one or two syllables can cause confusion when they are poorly chosen."
As well as looking back at 25 years of gobbledygook, the Campaign is celebrating the improvements in communication since 1979. It has asked its 7000 supporters, in more than 80 countries, to mark the anniversary by sending thank-you notes to writers of clear documents.
Chrissie Maher, the Campaign's founder-director, said at least one thing had changed in the past 25 years. "In 1979 we stood outside Parliament shredding gobbledygook to protest at the state of official documents. This summer we were inside Parliament giving evidence to a committee of MPs trying to improve communication with the public. So at least we've got through the front door!
"We've changed thousands of documents, but more importantly we've changed attitudes. Unclear writing is now far more likely to be caused by bad habits rather than bad intentions.
"In a way, it's depressing that we still need a Plain English Campaign after 25 years. Some of the campaigners who work at our offices weren't even born when the Campaign began. But a letter I received from a nurse a couple of years ago explains exactly why Plain English Campaign will keep on fighting. She said that gobbledygook 'makes us feel hoodwinked, inferior, definitely frustrated and angry, and it causes a divide between us and the writer'."
Press statement (London Elections)
14 June 2004
The following is a statement by our spokesman John Lister about the news that 500,000 votes have been rejected in London elections.
"When confusing ballot papers caused chaos in the last United States presidential election, we warned that lessons had to be learned. Four years later, there is no excuse for elections that leave more than half a million votes wasted.
"If those in power learn nothing else from the fiasco in London, they must learn to stop mixing and matching different voting systems on the same ballot paper. If we have to have different elections held on the same day, the rule must be a totally separate ballot paper for each election with a clear explanation of the voting system.
"Ballot papers should be properly tested in simulations before election day. When real elections are used for testing ballot designs, democracy pays the price of failure."
And even the people whose votes were counted may have been confused by the ballot papers. On 4 June, we gave the following warning in our weekly newsletter:
"There are also problems with the ballot papers for the London Assembly. This involves two separate votes: one for a local constituency member, and one for a political party to get seats that aren't specific to a constituency. The two votes appear on a single ballot paper in adjacent columns. So, the left-hand column contains a list of candidate names in alphabetical order (with the party listed below the name in smaller type). And the right-hand column contains a list of political parties in alphabetical order. This means it is very possible that voters will mistakenly read across the ballot paper and think the candidate and the party are linked. To show the potential for confusion, Ealing and Hillingdon independent candidate Dalawar Majid Chaudhry's name will apparently be listed next to that of the British National Party."
Campaign celebrates 10,000th crystal clear document
1 June 2004
A booklet about heating and insulation grants has become the 10,000th document to achieve Plain English Campaign's Crystal Mark status.
The Crystal Mark is the Campaign's seal of approval to say a document is as clear as possible for its intended audience, taking into account both language and design. As well as running in-house checks, the Campaign regularly tests documents on the public for clarity.
Crystal Mark number 10,000 appears on a booklet produced by Eaga Partnership Ltd about the Warm Front scheme, which provides government grants for home heating and insulation. An Eaga spokesman said the organisation was "particularly proud to receive the 10,000th Crystal Mark. We take great pride in providing accessible, informative and easy-to-read materials for our customers."
Plain English Campaign founder director Chrissie Maher said it was a particularly apt document to earn the 10,000th Crystal Mark. "One of the main inspirations for launching the Campaign in 1979 was a truly baffling application form for heating allowance. If documents in the 1970s had been as clear as the Warm Front booklet, there might never have been a Plain English Campaign!
"Even today, I still get frustrated by the amount of waffle and gobbledygook in public information. But when I think of ten thousand different documents written in plain English, it shows what a tremendous change the crusade for clarity has made to ordinary people's lives."
The Campaign will celebrate its 25th anniversary on 26 July.
Crystal Mark facts:
- The first Crystal Mark was earned in 1989 by Eagle Star.
- Each numbered Crystal Mark applies to an individual document rather than an organisation.
- More than 1200 organisations have earned at least one Crystal Mark, including 315 local authorities, 171 medical organisations, 138 government departments and agencies, and 101 insurance and pension firms.
- Documents as legalistic as NatWest's memorandum and articles of association and a British Aerospace international leasing agreement have earned the Crystal Mark.
- As well as the United Kingdom, the Crystal Mark has appeared on documents in Ireland, the United States, Australia and South Africa.
At the end of the day... we're fed up with clichés.
23 March 2004
Plain English supporters around the world have voted "At the end of the day" as the most irritating phrase in the language.
Second place in the vote was shared by "At this moment in time" and the constant use of "like" as if it were a form of punctuation. "With all due respect" came fourth.
The Campaign surveyed its 5000 supporters in more than 70 countries as part of the build-up to its 25th anniversary. The independent pressure group was launched on 26 July 1979.
Spokesman John Lister said over-used phrases were a barrier to communication. "When readers or listeners come across these tired expressions, they start tuning out and completely miss the message - assuming there is one! Using these terms in daily business is about professional as wearing a novelty tie or having a wacky ringtone on your phone.
"George Orwell's advice from 1946 is still worth following: 'Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.'"
The following terms also received multiple nominations:
- address the issue
- around (in place of "about")
- ballpark figure
- basis ("on a weekly basis" in place of "weekly" and so on)
- bear with me
- between a rock and a hard place
- blue sky (thinking)
- boggles the mind
- bottom line
- crack troops
- diamond geezer
- epicentre (used incorrectly)
- glass half full (or half empty)
- going forward
- I hear what you're saying..
- in terms of...
- it's not rocket science
- move the goal-posts
- pushing the envelope
- singing from the same hymn sheet
- the fact of the matter is
- thinking outside the box
- to be honest/to be honest with you/to be perfectly honest
- touch base
- up to (in place of "about")
- value-added (in general use)
From head to toe - medical consent company makes it crystal clear
2 February 2004
Plain English Campaign has described a healthcare company as 'pioneers in clear communication' after they produced a range of consent documents that literally run from head to toe.
The praise marks EIDO Healthcare becoming the first group to earn the Campaign's Crystal Mark for 150 separate documents. (Only six organisations of any type have ever achieved more than 100 Crystal Marks.) The Crystal Mark is the Campaign's seal of approval to show a document is as clear as possible for its intended audience.
EIDO produce patient information consent documents for the most commonly performed surgical and medical procedures: the 150 Crystal Marked documents run from cataracts to bunions and wisdom teeth to circumcision. EIDO's writers and editors (many of them trained by the Campaign) have worked to make the documents readily understandable but still retain medical accuracy and legal validity.
Chrissie Maher, founder director of the Campaign, praised EIDO's achievement. 'Expecting patients to sign a consent form they can't understand is nothing short of a cruel joke. EIDO have shown that, no matter what the medical or surgical procedure is, you can produce clear information that truly allows patients to understand what they are agreeing to. By achieving plain English in every document, EIDO have become a guiding light for the entire healthcare industry.'
Owain Tudor, the director responsible for product development at EIDO, said, 'Having an operation in hospital can mean a very anxious time for most patients. A crystal-clear written explanation of what the operation involves, including the benefits and possible risks, is vital to ease stress and support shared decision making between doctor and patient. A natural by product is that the doctor's exposure to the risk of litigation is reduced.
Donald Rumsfeld 'honoured' for confusing comments
1 December 2003
United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has won Plain English Campaign's annual 'Foot in Mouth' award for the most baffling statement by a public figure. And eight organisations have won 'Golden Bull' booby prizes for gobbledygook. But campaigners praised organisations dealing with health and social issues for producing particularly clear documents.
Broadcaster Fiona Bruce will host the Campaign's 24th annual awards ceremony in London tomorrow (Tuesday 2 December) to mark Plain English Day. The Campaign is a pressure group fighting to get public information written in clear and straightforward language.
Mr Rumsfeld said in a press briefing, 'Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know.'
Campaign spokesman John Lister said, 'We think we know what he means. But we don't know if we really know...'
Among those narrowly defeated by Mr Rumsfeld this year were Arnold Schwarzenegger (who said 'I think that gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman.') and Chris Patten (who said 'Having committed political suicide, the Conservative Party is now living to regret it.') Previous winners include Richard Gere, artist Tracey Emin and Alicia Silverstone.
The Golden Bull winners are JMC Airlines (now part of Thomas Cook), jungle.com, Lloyds Pharmacy, Marks and Spencer, SMEG, Standard Life, and Warburtons Bakers. There is also a Golden Bull for 'The Social Fund Maternity and Funeral Expenses (General) Regulations'.
The Campaign also makes positive awards for clear documents. All six winners praised in the open 'plain English' category this year involve health or social issues.
The judges had a tough time choosing the Golden Bulls this year according to Campaign spokesman John Lister. 'The pile of entries weighed in at around four pounds (almost two kilograms), and we had entries from Australia, Malaysia, Ireland, the United States and Botswana. We tried to keep the awards reasonably light-hearted this year and we picked winners to show the full range of linguistic offences, from cliches to jargon and from legalese to mistranslation.
'The truly atrocious documents are becoming far less common, but unclear writing is still a major problem. Ordinary people are faced with gobbledygook and jargon every day and it just grinds us all down and makes our lives a little more miserable.
'We're appealing to all writers not only to use plain English wherever possible, but also to make sure they don't overload people with unnecessary information. Official documents shouldn't leave readers reaching for a dictionary and a packet of paracetamol.'
Bureaucrats top all-time gobbledygook league
21 July 2003
A new online gobbledygook archive shows more than a hundred examples of unclear writing from the last two decades.
The archive contains the full text of winning documents from Plain English Campaign's annual Golden Bull awards. The 'honour', first awarded in 1981, recognises around six to eight of the most baffling examples of public information each year. Most of the examples are appearing on the internet for the first time.
The top ten types of gobbledygook offender, ranked by the number of documents winning a Golden Bull award, are as follows.
- Government departments and agencies
- Local authorities
- Banks and building societies
- Writers of contract terms and conditions
- Insurance firms
- Education organisations
- Health organisations
- Financial and investment firms
- Transport groups
- Solicitors writing letters to clients
Spokesman John Lister said the results were surprising. 'We expected the legal profession to be higher on the list. That said, many of the winners have immediately pointed the finger at their legal department!
'While both central and local government have traditionally done badly in the Golden Bulls, we shouldn't forget the tremendous improvement in clarity from public officials since Plain English Campaign's launch. Government writing will always come under closer scrutiny because it affects everybody's lives. Fortunately the truly awful documents are now the exception rather than the rule.
'The list of offenders shows how widespread the problem of unclear writing is. When gobbledygook affects the law, money, health, education and transport, it can makes our lives a daily misery.'
This year's Golden Bull awards ceremony takes place on Tuesday 2 December (Plain English Day). The deadline for nominations is 30 September.
Children offer clear foundation for cosmetics instructions
25 June 2003
Nine of the youngest campaigners for clarity have offered advice to help cosmetic companies avoid alienating new customers.
The suggestions come from a group of Liverpool girls, aged between 12 and 16. They tested cosmetics instructions as part of a project led by 12-year-old Rebecca Brown (pictured below), the granddaughter of Plain English Campaign's founder-director Chrissie Maher.
'It's natural for girls our age to experiment with beauty products,' Rebecca said. 'And the magazines we read are full of adverts for make-up. But the manufacturers seem to forget teenagers use their products and need clear instructions.'
Rebecca and her friends have the following advice for manufacturers:
- Put the safety warnings first as they are the most important information.
- Use photographs to give people a better idea of what the results should look if the product is used properly.
- Give clear details how much of the product to use.
- Don't use uncommon words if an everyday alternative will do just as well.
- Mention on the box if there is anything else you need to have before you can use the product.
'We're not asking for everything to be written in baby talk,' Rebecca explained. 'We just want the people writing the instructions to remember that not everyone is an expert on how to use the products. We think it would make sense to put the safety information first because this affects everybody. Then you can go on to explain clearly how to use the product. People who already know this can stop reading at this point, so there's no need to worry about saying things that may seem obvious.'
Rebecca says manufacturers shouldn't dismiss the suggestions just because they come from children. 'We're the customers of the future. If a manufacturer gives us clear instructions, we're more likely to get good results from a product. And that means we're more likely to buy that manufacturer's products when we get older and start spending wages instead of pocket money.'
(Picture above: Katey Brown, Rebecca's sister.)
100th insurance firm earns Crystal Mark for plain English
2 June 2003
Hibernian General Insurance Limited has become the 100th insurance company to earn Plain English Campaign's coveted Crystal Mark for at least one document.
The Crystal Mark is the Campaign's seal of approval that says a document is as clear as possible for its intended audience. Launched in 1990, the logo now appears on more than 8500 documents.
Hibernian earned the logo for its document 'Protecting commercial property in an emergency'.
Chrissie Maher, founder-director of Plain English Campaign, welcomed the landmark. Over the years, the insurance industry has been one of the worst offenders over the years for gobbledygook and jargon. However, we do appreciate that many firms are making a genuine effort to communicate clearly.
'Plain English is actually great news for insurance firms. Without gobbledygook, customers can choose the policy that genuinely meets their needs at the best price. This means the best firms will thrive. And if customers understand their policies, less time is wasted by disputed and rejected claims.
'It would be naive to think the insurance industry is a model of clarity, but with a hundred firms achieving a Crystal Mark, it's clear that waffling firms can no longer use the excuse that 'everybody else does it'.'
Clare Short's resignation earns praise for clear communication
12 May 2003
Crusaders for clarity today praised Clare Short for the clarity of her resignation letter. (A copy follows this release).
'We aren't getting involved in the politics of her resignation,' Plain English Campaign spokesman John Lister explained. 'But we do want to highlight her resignation letter as a model of plain English. She makes her point without any waffle or ambiguity, yet still keeps it polite and human.
'Usually the words of politicians are more suited to our Golden Bull awards for gobbledygook, so we are delighted to see Clare Short showing that plain English can survive in Westminster.'
I have decided I must leave the government.
As you know, I thought the run-up to the conflict in Iraq was mishandled, but I agreed to stay in the government to help support the reconstruction effort for the people of Iraq.
I am afraid that the assurances you gave me about the need for a UN mandate to establish a legitimate Iraqi government have been breached.
The Security Council resolution that you and Jack have so secretly negotiated contradicts the assurances I have given in the House of Commons and elsewhere about the legal authority of the occupying powers, and the need for a UN-led process to establish a legitimate Iraqi government. This makes my position impossible.
It has been a great honour for me to have led the establishment and development of the Department for International Development over the past six years.
I am proud of what we have achieved and much else that the government has done.
I am sad and sorry that it has ended like this.
Gas firm thinks two wrongs make a right
1 May 2003
Sending incorrect statements to customers wasn't enough for staff at Shell Gas. They then sent customers an identical copy of the incorrect statement and told them to work the correct figure out themselves. (The letter is printed below.)
'It's absolutely baffling,' said Plain English Campaign spokesman John Lister. 'If Shell know what the problem is, why on earth didn't they simply send corrected statements. They are effectively saying "We've made a mistake but we can't be bothered putting it right. You sort it out."
'To make it worse, it's not a particularly complicated mistake. They've mistakenly double-counted the money carried over from the last statement. But their explanation makes it seem like a mathematical riddle.
'If Shell's customers wanted to solve linguistic and numerical puzzles they would apply for a place on Countdown.'
Please find enclosed copy of the quarterly statement you will have recently received from Shell Gas Limited. Unfortunately, due to a previously unnoticed system error this statement is incorrect.
The opening balance should reflect the closing balance on your previous statement dated 31/12/02 but due to the aforementioned system error this is not the case. The opening balance is exactly double what it should be as you will be able to confirm by referring to your December statement.
Closing balance on 31/12/02 statement £150
Opening balance on 31/3/03 statement £300
Obviously, the closing balance on the December statement should then be the opening balance of the March statement but as you can see, the figure has been doubled. And, because the opening balance is incorrect it also makes your closing balance incorrect by the amount of the duplication, in the above case by £150.
To summarise, your balance on the enclosed statement is wrong by the exact difference between your December statement closing balance and March statement opening balance.
Please accept our sincere apologies for any confusion and inconvenience caused. Rest assured Shell Gas Limited are doing everything possible to ensure this situation does not occur again in the future.
Lord of the Rings game causes epic confusion
17 December 2002
Plain English Campaign's youngest supporters say instructions for a Lord of the Rings card game are so baffling it might be quicker to read the trilogy of books. The game is among several popular Christmas gifts with instructions that are truly a turkey.
But testing by Liverpool children shows it isn't always the latest electronic technology that causes problems. They found that a booklet for a mobile phone was one of the clearest sets of instructions.
The testing project was the idea of fifteen-year-old Katey Brown, granddaughter of the Campaign's founder-director Chrissie Maher. She and a group of friends tested the instructions for six popular gifts for children: a digital camera, a card game, a 'build your own robot' set, an electronic game, a mobile phone and a board game.
The group praised the Samsung T100 mobile phone's instruction booklet, describing it as 'easy to understand, clear and reliable'. But they were less impressed with Tiger's 'Lights Out' electronic game. Katey said 'It is hard to imagine anyone playing this game without reading the booklet five or six times at least.' She also condemned a 'Lords of the Ring' card game, saying 'I certainly would not recommend this game to anyone unless they have the patience of a saint.'
According to Katey, there are four main ways manufacturers could improve instructions:
- using one (not too long) booklet rather than several different leaflets, a huge piece of paper that folds up, or a computer spreadsheet;
- writing instructions in a logical order, for example explaining how to put the batteries in an electronic game before explaining how to play the game;
- including accurate pictures or photographs with the instructions so that you can see if you are following them correctly;
- saying clearly on the box if you need anything extra to use the toy or game, such as tools or special computer equipment.
Plain English Campaign spokesman John Lister said parents and children should not stand for unclear instructions. 'As far as we're concerned, duff instruction leaflets are just as bad as having part of the gift missing. Katey and her friends have shown how testing instructions can uncover problems. It's time manufacturers followed their lead instead of risking Christmas Day being riddled by frustration and misery.'
Richard Gere wins prize for celebrity waffle
4 December 2002
Actor Richard Gere has won Plain English Campaign's dreaded Foot in Mouth award for 2002. And Halifax Insurance, Marconi, the Scottish Parliament and Waitrose are among ten winners of the Golden Bull award for outrageous gobbledygook.
The 'honours' are part of a ceremony to mark Plain English Day tomorrow (Thursday 5 December). The Campaign, an independent pressure group, will also honour organisations that have written particularly clear documents during 2002.
Mr Gere took the Foot in Mouth award, which recognises the year's most baffling celebrity quote, after he told a Sunday newspaper that 'I know who I am. No one else knows who I am. If I was a giraffe and somebody said I was a snake, I'd think 'No, actually I am a giraffe.'' Previous winners of the award include Gordon Brown, Glenn Hoddle, Alicia Silverstone and Tracey Emin.
The Golden Bull winners include:
- an employment contract with a legalese-filled 98-word sentence;
- a lawyer's bizarre translation of the word 'container'; and
- an internet firm that squeezed 18 meaningless business cliches into a single paragraph that would make even David Brent of 'The Office' shudder.
Campaign spokesman John Lister said the Golden Bulls were meant to be lighthearted. 'These are simply the most ludicrous examples we have found during the year. Thanks to the success of our campaigners, most writers wouldn't dream of producing such incomprehensible documents. The real problem is the thousands of documents each year that aren't as eyecatching as the Golden Bull winners, but are still far from crystal clear. Stodgy, long-winded writing is still wasting time and money and cheating people of the chance to make an informed decision. 'There is good news this year, though. Our judges said entries for the Inside Write awards, which recognise clear writing in internal government documents, were the best crop they have seen in many years. If civil servants can communicate so clearly with each other, there must be hope for those who write documents for the public.'
Comedy performer and writer Sandi Toksvig will present the awards on Thursday 5 December (Plain English Day) at the Brewery Centre in London's Chiswell Street. This will be the 23rd annual Plain English Awards. The Campaign is also holding a conference in the same venue on Friday 6 December.
Last chance to lampoon linguistic lunacy
4 September 2002
There are just a few weeks left to nominate examples of gobbledygook for this year's Golden Bull awards.
The Golden Bulls are the booby prize category at Plain English Campaign's annual awards ceremony. The deadline for nominations is 30 September. Entries can be sent by post (PO Box 3, New Mills, High Peak, SK22 4QP) or e-mail (email@example.com).
'Examples of gobbledygook are the lifeblood of the Campaign,' spokesman John Lister said today. 'There's a myth that baffling waffle and jargon is a thing of the past but we know that's not the case. We need the public's help to hunt down and stamp out this drivel. And you don't need to worry about repercussions because we never name our sources without their permission.'
The following are just a sample of the nominations that the Campaign has already received for this year's Golden Bulls.
- A 'spam' e-mail sent to Plain English Campaign beginning 'We are very glad to introduce our new product to you: TELLUSWireless LAN USB Dongle.'
- A company's takeover bid or, as they put it, 'proposal to make a preconditional proposal to make a conditional offer'.
- A lawyer who redrafted his client's patent application, changing 'container' to 'a receptacle having at least one exterior surface and a plurality of walls defining a discrete object receiving volume'.
- A seminar aimed at 'Enabling organisations to capture, manage and dynamically re-express valuable media-rich assets and leveraging them to exploit new business opportunities requiring targeted delivery of rich media assets.'
The award ceremony takes place on Thursday 5 December at the Brewery in London's Chiswell Street. Plain English Campaign is also holding a conference in the same venue on Friday 6 December.
Jargon-busters applaud Straw's call for plain English in European constitution
27 August 2002
Plain English Campaigners have welcomed Jack Straw's call for a European Union constitution written in plain English. But they warned that the document should be tested on the public to make sure it can be understood.
Mr Straw said today that the constitution should be a 'simple set of principles [which] sets out in plain language what the EU is for' it would help to reconnect European voters with the institutions which act in their name.'
Spokesman John Lister said Plain English Campaign was not taking a political stance on where power should lie in Europe. 'However, we do believe everyone in an EU country deserves a clear account of how the EU affects their lives. This 'constitution' shouldn't be bogged down in legal details. Instead it should give people a general idea of the main points that affect their daily lives.
'If anything comes of Mr Straw's call, we hope the constitution will be tested on the public for clarity. It's no good churning something out through a system of linguistics sub-committees and then declaring it to be crystal clear without proper testing. If ordinary people can't understand a constitution that the EU claims is in 'plain language', then they will quickly lose any interest in the whole affair.'
Plain English Campaign recently set up a department dedicated to European Union issues. The department is headed by Peter Rodney, senior legal draftsman for the Government of Gibraltar. Launching the department, the Campaign's founder director Chrissie Maher said the department was needed because of the growing influence of European issues. 'I've lost count of the times I've been told that you 'must do this because of the EU', or 'the EC won't let you do that'.
'We're not concerned with the rights and wrongs of each political issue. That's for the political system and democracy to decide. But we demand plain English explanations of every issue that affects us.'
The need for clearer official documents to explain European issues was shown in 1992 when article 41 of the Maastricht treaty won the Campaign's 'Golden Bull' booby prize. It read:
'Simplified amendment procedure
'41.1. In accordance with Article 106(5) of this Treaty, Articles 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 17, 18, 19.2, 22, 23, 24, 26, 32.2, 32.3, 32.4, 32.6, 33.1(a) and 36 of this Statute may be amended by the Councll, acting either by a qualified majority on a recommendation from the ECB and after consulting the Commission, or unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the ECB.'
European Union wafflers have a new enemy
8 July 2002
Plain English Campaign is setting up a specialist department to tackle the growing problem of gobbledygook in European Union issues. And the Campaign is asking the public to help decide which types of document to concentrate on.
The department is headed by Peter Rodney, senior legal draftsman for the Government of Gibraltar. His experience includes:
- implementing European Commission directives;
- advising the House of Commons Select Committee on European legislation; and
- advising judges at the European Free Trade Area Court in Geneva on drafting in a plain English style.
The new department is represented in the UK by Plain English Campaign's company secretary Peter Griffiths. The department will lobby politicians and other European Union officials, and will work to simplify documents that affect the public.
The Campaign's founder director Chrissie Maher said the department was needed because of the growing influence of European issues. 'I've lost count of the times I've been told that you 'must do this because of the EU', or 'the EC won't let you do that'.
'We're not concerned with the rights and wrongs of each political issue. That's for the political system and democracy to decide. But we demand plain English explanations of every issue that affects us. Torturous and incomprehensible documents have no place in our daily lives.
'We'll be concentrating on documents written in English, but we hope the new department's work will encourage every writer in the European Union to get their message across clearly.'
The department has its own page on the Campaign's website at http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/european_union/. The Campaign is asking the public to send in examples of any unclear or baffling document concerning European Union issues. The new department will use this feedback to decide which types of document need to be tackled first.
New free guide explains wills in plain English
20 March 2002
Plain English Campaign has published a free guide to wills on its website (http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/willsguide.pdf).
The guide includes:
- a glossary explaining common terms used in wills;
- an explanation of what happens when somebody dies without leaving a valid will (intestacy); and
- three examples of how wills could be written in plain English for straightforward situations.
Campaign spokesman John Lister said the guide came in response to public demand. 'We get many calls and letters from people who are frustrated because they cannot get a solicitor to prepare a will that they can understand. Of course, ironically a will is the one situation where the person signing the document cannot clarify any confusion when the document comes to be used.
The following paragraph is an example of one will sent to the Campaign by a distressed supporter.
'ANY Executor for the time being hereof being a Solicitor or other person engaged in a profession or business shall be entitled to charge retain and be paid in priority to all other bequests hereby made all usual professional or other charges for business done by him or his firm in relation to proving this my Will and obtaining Probate thereof and in the execution or otherwise in relation to the trusts hereof and also his reasonable charges in addition to disbursements for other work and business done and all time spent by him or his firm in connection with matter arising in the premises including matters which might or should have been attended to in person by a trustee not being a Solicitor and any Executor shall be entitled to retain any brokerage or other commission which may be received personally or by such Executor's firm in respect of any transaction carried out in the administration of my Estate and the trusts thereof for which the Executor or his firm is in the normal course of business allowed or paid brokerage or other commission notwithstanding that the receipt of such brokerage or commission was produced by an exercise by such Executor of powers vested in him hereby or by law.'
John Lister explained that the guide is not intended to be a 'how to' manual. 'We just want to give people a starting point to make sure they can be confident their will reflects their intentions. If nothing else, people should be able to express their wishes in plain English and have a solicitor apply legal jargon where strictly necessary. Too often the solicitor starts with a sludge of legalese before begrudgingly simplifying the language.
'As always with our guides, we welcome any corrections or suggestions, particularly from the legal profession.'
Government doesn't give a ha'penny for information on Europe
25 January 2002
A minister has admitted the Government spends less than half a penny a year for each person to keep the public informed about the European Union.
The figure was revealed during a debate in the House of Lords this week on a proposal to send a plain English leaflet explaining the Treaty of Nice to each home in Britain. Foreign Office minister Baroness Symons said the idea was impossible because of the 'budget for public diplomacy on the European Union; in other words... what we have in the kitty for informing the public on these issues. We have £250,000, with which we manage to fund a huge range of projects - targeting those who know the least about the EU, giving them information, and trying to stimulate debate.'
According to the latest government statistics, the population of Britain is around 59.8 million. This means the £250,000 budget represents just 0.41 pence for each person.
Our founder-director Chrissie Maher said it was no wonder the public feel out of touch with European issues. 'I'll leave it to the political pundits to decide why this budget is so low. All I know is that without plain English information, ordinary people don't stand a chance of having an informed opinion.
'Our supporters, both for and against closer involvement in Europe, tell us that the subject should be one of our top priorities. We will do whatever we can to make sure that everyone, from members of the European Parliament to Tony Blair himself, makes the effort to give the public plain English information. But even if we win the battle for hearts and minds, the Government are going to have to crack open the piggy bank.
'We are all affected by the European Union. We all need clear information about it if we are to have a democratic voice. In my opinion, that little bit of democracy is worth more than a ha'penny a year.'
The dirty half-dozen
26 November 2001
Plain English Campaigners today revealed some of the weird and wonderful examples of mangled English they uncovered during 2001.
But amazingly the six pieces they published were not baffling enough to win the annual Golden Bull gobbledygook prizes, which are announced next week on Plain English Day (Thursday 6 December).
'While these examples didn't quite make it to the final Golden Bulls list, we felt they deserved public ridicule', spokesman John Lister said. 'The writers of these pieces should feel lucky they have not been named and shamed. On 6 December, the Golden Bull winners won't be so lucky.
'If anyone recognises these examples as their own work, they should switch to plain English quickly - or they may not escape the Golden Bulls next year.'
These are the six pieces that narrowly missed a Golden Bull award.
1) A legal opinion on a financial firm.
'If it is a breach of the rules not to reveal that there have been many breaches of the rules then presumably there must be a further breach of the rules not to reveal the breach of the rules in not revealing the mass breach of the rules, and so on. The concept of a duty with the capacity for infinite regression is most unattractive.'
2) A public official's letter to a member of the public.
'I cannot fetter the exercise of my discretion by determining in advance of the exercise of such discretion how I might exercise that discretion.'
3) A supposedly 'simple' will form.
'Signed by the said TESTATOR.... in the presence of us, present at the same time, who at the Testator's request, in the Testator's presence, and in the presence of each other, have subscribed our names at witnesses.'
4) A conference title.
'Optimising Knowledge Sharing and Maximising Intranet ROI Through Winning Content Management Strategies'
5) An exam board (explaining the rules for GCSE course).
'Synoptic assessment unit(s), when first attempted, must be taken terminally, that is, either in the same series as the non-synoptic units or in a subsequent series. Where there are two synoptic units, they must be taken terminally and together when taken for the first time.
'In the event of a candidate re-taking non-synoptic units after the synoptic units have been attempted (for example, when certification has been declined) there is no requirement for synoptic units to be retaken in order to meet the 'end-of-course' requirement above.'
6) Australian accountant to client.
'The requirement that deductibility is contingent on expenditure being incurred for the purpose of gaining or producing assessable income is common to the provisions relating to both registration and other expenditure.
'It does not mean that there must be assessable income arising from the business. All that is required is that the business must be put to use for the ultimate objective of producing assessable income. However, where expenditure is incurred for purposes that include the purpose of producing assessable income, deductibility will only be to the extent that producing assessable income is the purpose for incurring the expenditure.
Plain English hits council milestone
1 November 2001
Tewkesbury Borough Council has become the 250th local authority to earn Plain English Campaign's coveted Crystal Mark.
The Gloucestershire council earned the honour for its Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit claim form. The document passed the Campaign's rigorous testing to make sure the intended audience could read and act upon it on a single reading.
Chrissie Maher, founder-director of Plain English Campaign, said she was delighted to reach this milestone. 'It's now crystal clear that plain English has become the rule rather than the exception. Councils from Dover to the Western Isles have answered the public's call for clarity.'
'Comparing this form from Tewkesbury with the documents councils produced back when we started the Campaign in 1979 proves there has been a complete culture change in the way councils communicate with the public.'
'That doesn't mean the fight ends here though. Plain English saves councils money, but it also makes local people better informed about the decisions that affect their daily lives. Whitehall bureaucrats can produce baffling documents and never see the consequences. But documents from council officials have an effect right on their doorsteps.
'We're pleased that the majority of councils now make efforts to use plain English. But we won't be happy until clear communication is standard practice in every town hall.'
Pete Antill, Director of Finance at Tewkesbury Borough Council said 'We are delighted and honoured to gain the Crystal Mark but the most pleasing aspect is that this is another step forward in improving our processes for our customers. Baffling documents confuse and even discourage taxpayers from claiming their entitlements. We want to ensure that everybody gets their right entitlement and the new claim form will help with that objective.'
'Plain English should be the norm' says criminal court review
9 October 2001
Plain English Campaign today offered 'every possible help' to the Lord Chancellor when he acts on recommendations by Lord Auld to bring plain English to the criminal court system.
Lord Auld's suggestions, part of his comprehensive review published today, include:
- 'a thrust throughout the criminal justice system for the use of plain and simple English so that it is understood by lawyer and non-lawyer alike';
- examining 'all court procedures, forms and terms with a view to simplifying their language and content';
- rewriting the jury summons 'in a more informal and friendly tone than at present';
- writing bail notices in plain English so that the defendant 'understands exactly what is required of him and appreciates the seriousness of the grant of bail and of any attached conditions'; and
- replacing the juror's oath or affirmation with a simple statement such as 'I promise to try the defendant and to decide on the evidence whether he is guilty or not'.
John Lister, spokesman for Plain English Campaign, said the proposals completed the work started by the 1999 reforms of the civil courts. 'When plain English took the place of legal jargon in the civil courts, some lawyers questioned whether it could work. Two years on the civil court system= is thriving, and a change of terminology has led to a change in attitudes.
'Lord Auld's recommendations on plain English may only be a small part of his programme of reform, but it could be the most important. A fair and just legal system can only work when everyone involved understands what is happening.
'Now that our campaigning has ended in victory, we gladly offer our 22 years of experience of rewriting documents in plain English to the Lord Chancellor. Lord Auld has established the principle of plain English in criminal courts. The next step is to turn that into practice.'
Council waffle joins endangered species list
2 May 2001
The battle against local authority gobbledygook celebrates its 30th birthday this week - and one of its 'founding fathers' has said the fight is finally being won.
Chrissie Maher, founder-director of Plain English Campaign, says public feedback shows local authorities are now leading the way on clarity for the first time.
She spoke on the anniversary of an article in the May 1971 issue of the Tuebrook Bugle, the pioneering community newspaper that she created to give a voice to her Merseyside neighbourhood. The article, which condemned Liverpool City Council for refusing to simplify benefit forms, is the first recorded protest of the war on wordiness that led to the creation of Plain English Campaign in 1979.
Speaking this week, Chrissie said that in recent weeks she has felt the battle is finally being won. 'I think we've finally reached the stage where council waffle stands out as the exception rather than the rule.
'This year we finally reached the point where the majority of local authorities in the country have earned our Crystal Mark accreditation on at least one of their documents.
'We won't get complacent because there is still a lot of jargon and waffle in council documents. But we spend most of our time highlighting the problems, and I think it only fair that we acknowledge the hard work that many local authorities have put in. I'm especially proud of Liverpool City Council, which is now a shining example of council clarity.
'It could take a lifetime to change every document, but after 30 years I finally feel we've changed attitudes. That's enough to keep me happy - for now!'
Honesty is the lost policy
27 March 2001
Almost all of Britain's political leaders have failed the honesty challenge, Plain English Campaign announced today.
The Campaign's request to all the major party leaders to commit to honesty in their General Election manifestos went unanswered in most cases.
Just two parties gave any commitment to honesty. And new advertising rules mean there is no need for politicians to tell the truth in their adverts.
Chrissie Maher, founder-director of the Campaign, wrote to ten party leaders in January. She asked them to make an open pledge that:
- everything in their manifesto would be entirely true; and
- there will be nothing missing from the manifesto that the voter needs to know before they can make an informed decision.
Only Ian Paisley of the Ulster Democratic Unionists replied with an unconditional promise. Charles Kennedy of the Liberal Democrats agreed with the principle, but said his manifesto had to be kept confidential until the campaign began.
William Hague said his party 'believes in common sense policies, so it goes without saying that the manifesto will be clear and easy to understand.' His reply makes no mention of honesty.
None of the other leaders have replied to the letter.
'I'm disappointed, if not shocked, by the lack of response,' Chrissie Maher said. 'You know democracy is becoming a shambles when the major parties can't even promise to tell the truth. Plain English is about making informed decisions and without honesty from politicians we can't do that in the election.
'It's not a case of us saying any or all politicians are telling the truth or telling lies. The point is that without a firm commitment from the party leaders to be honest, we just don't know what we can believe.
'Then again, when politicians are given free reign to say what they like in their advertising without having to back it up, what hope is there?'
The Advertising Standards Authority recently announced that their rules on honesty will not apply to the next general election. Business adverts 'must not mislead by inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise.' But when it comes to politics, there is nothing the regulators can do if politicians lie.
Note to editors:
The letters went to the following parties.
- DUP (Democratic Unionist Party)
- Liberal Democrats
- Plaid Cymru
- SDLP (Social Democratic & Labour Party)
- Sinn Fein
- SNP (Scottish National Party)
- UKUP (United Kingdom Unionist Party)
- Ulster Unionists
Legal jargon under fire in House of Lords
27 March 2001
A peer is taking the anti-jargon campaign to the House of Lords today.
Earl Attlee, an opposition peer, is tabling an amendment to the Vehicles (Crime Bill) shortly after 3pm. His amendment calls for all three uses of the expression 'cognate' in the bill to be replaced with 'related'.
And he has vowed to press the point every time 'cognate' appears in any draft legislation.
'It's good to see somebody with the courage to stand up for plain English in our laws,' the Campaign's founder-director Chrissie Maher said today. 'Nobody is pretending that the presence or absence of a single word will change the world, but it's an important principle.
'And most of all, it will irritate those people who think only the legal elite should be able to understand our laws.
'One peer, Lord Cope has already picked up on this point. The government spokesman Lord Whitty actually had the gall to describe him as having 'a surprising deficiency in education' just because he wasn't familiar with the word 'cognate'.
'The amazing part is that they aren't using this legal jargon to explain a complicated legal point. Lord Whitty actually said he had used 'cognate' to make it clear that 'an application for registration is to be construed as an application to be registered'.
'If the judges need to be told this, you have to wonder what language they are speaking.'
During the debate on the amendment, Baroness Scott agreed that language in bills should be straightforward (as she put it, 'to facilitate understanding'). Lord Davies of Oldham agreed that Earl Attlee had a point, but claimed 'no great issue is at stake'.
We believe the clarity of legislation affects every issue at stake in Parliament.
Earl Attlee withdrew his amendment, but only after warning the Government that he will continue to raise the issue everytime 'cognate' appears in a document.
Chrissie Maher applauded the Earl's vow, pointing out that 'there is no greater weapon than an obstinate nature!'
Junk fax laws are 'licensed extortion'
19 March 2001
Measures to protect people from unwanted faxes are failing because of ludicrous compliance costs.
That's the view of Plain English Campaign staff, which faces a £3750 annual bill to avoid becoming criminals.
Under the Telecommunications (Data Protection and Privacy) Regulations 1999, it is now illegal to send a fax to any business that has joined an opt-out register. But this register can only be seen by paying a licence fee to a private firm with monopoly control.
The 'Fax Preference Service' is run by a limited company owned by the Direct Marketing Association - which won the rights to run the scheme in a government auction.
Anybody who sends a fax to a number registered with the scheme faces a £5000 fine plus damages. But access to the register costs £500 a time, and must be done at least every 28 days to be sure of keeping within the law. An annual licence costs £3750.
Plain English Campaign staff learned of the scheme after faxing news of a plain English legal writing course to various major law firms. One of them was registered with the Fax Preference Service and made an official complaint. A report on this 'crime' is now headed to the 'Office of the Data Protection Commissioner'.
Chrissie Maher, founder-director of Plain English Campaign, said the system was 'licensed extortion. We're not against crackdowns on persistent junk faxes. But to tell small firms that they must pay almost £4000 just to be able to send a fax without risking breaking the law is ridiculous.
'There's 229,000 fax numbers on this list, but you could still fit them on a floppy disk and have change from a pound. It would be just as easy to put the register on the web, keeping the details private, but allowing people to check the fax numbers they are planning to use.
'We don't want to send unwanted faxes anyway - if people aren't interested in our offers, we'd rather not waste our phone bill. But to force us to pay these ludicrous sums is just another case of small business subsidising the real offenders.'
British Telecom - confusing consumers
17 January 2001
British Telecom's baffling price structure means an average household could pay any of 36 different totals for the same set of calls, a new study shows. And the quarterly bill could be anywhere between £83.06 and £287.27.
Plain English Campaign made the study after a barrage of complaints from BT customers about a letter from the firm that contained almost 40 footnotes.
'People were coming to us asking how on earth they were meant to work out which of BT's various deals was best for them,' the Campaign's spokesman John Lister said. 'We tried to work out why the footnotes were so complicated and realised it was because the range of BT packages themselves is so tortuously confusing.'
The study saw Campaign researchers take an imaginary household spending a set time each week on local, national and international calls, and spending a set time using BT's Internet services. They then tried to work out how much the quarterly bill would be under each possible combination of BT's packages.
'I've filled in a self-assessment tax form,' John Lister said, 'but I think this calculation may have been even more mindnumbing. It was bad enough trying to work out that a 'PSTN line' was just a normal household line, and that there was a difference between 'BT Together' and 'BT Talk Together'.
'But when we went to BT's website for clarification and had to try and work out why there was a difference between 'Geographic Inland Direct Dialled PPM Prices' and 'Inland National NTS Direct Dialled PPM Prices' it nearly brought us to tears. Then we had to work out why something that cost £3.20 a quarter and got you 11% off calls was known as Option 15''
In all, the research produced 36 different possible totals for the same set of calls. And the Campaign openly admitted they couldn't be confident the totals they worked out were the right answers.
'After almost four hours trying to do all the sums, our brains turned to mush,' John Lister said. 'It was starting to feel like a mathematics exam.
'Customer choice is one thing, but with this many options it's no wonder people don't trust BT. Maybe some people are getting the best deal. But if it takes an entire afternoon's calculations just to get a vague idea of which package really works out cheapest, it's impossible to have any confidence that you're not paying too much.
'We'd like BT to provide crystal-clear explanations of their packages to customers. But with a system this complicated, that's like trying to explain the quickest route through Spaghetti Junction.'
Campaigners search for an honest politician
9 January 2001
Plain English Campaigners have issued a challenge to the major political parties - commit to honesty in your next manifesto.
The group's founder-director Chrissie Maher has written to all the main party leaders. She challenged each of them to put their documents up against the Campaign's Crystal Mark and the Honesty Mark.
'Once we're satisfied their documents are crystal clear, it's easy for every party to earn the Honesty Mark. They just need to get their party leaders to sign a pledge to Plain English Campaign that says:
- everything in the document is entirely true; and
- there is nothing missing from the document that the voter needs to know before they can make an informed decision.'
At the last election, all the major parties pledged to use plain English, but this is the first time the Campaign has added a promise of honesty to its request.
Since the Campaign launched the Honesty Mark in 1997, 12 organisations have signed the pledge for at least one of their documents. Although the Honesty Mark can be withdrawn if the Campaign believes the promise has been broken, this has never been necessary.
'It's going to be interesting to see who has the courage to sign up,' Chrissie said. 'Unless the politicians can think of a reason why their pledge might not hold up, they have nothing to fear from the Honesty Mark.
'Our vote in the general election is the best chance we have to influence national politics. I don't think clear, trustworthy information is too much to ask from politicians.'
(This is the letter sent to the political leaders.)
The chances are there will be a general election this year. On behalf of the public, I want to ask your help to make this an election based on true democracy.
We want all the major parties to do two things:
- give the public a manifesto clear enough to earn our coveted Crystal Mark; and
- sign our Honesty Mark pledge to say everything in your manifesto is entirely true, and that there is nothing left out that could mislead the voter.
I'm sure you are already aware of the Crystal Mark scheme. I have enclosed some details of the Honesty Mark scheme. So far, 12 organisations have had the courage to sign our pledge. This isn't good enough, and we think political parties could lead the way.
Plain English Campaign is not, and never will be, party political. We simply want the public to be able to make informed decisions based on honest information. I hope you can help us make this an election decided by the issues, not the spin.
Chrissie Maher OBE
2000 press releases
Confusing voting form may swing presidential election
8 November 2000
Plain English campaigners have discovered that a baffling voting form may mean the American people do not get the president they wanted.
The form was used in Palm Beach County, Florida, where each county designs its own ballot papers. American voters make their choice by punching a hole rather than ticking a box. But the punch hole by Al Gore's name was actually for third party candidate Pat Buchanan.
The confusion came about because Palm Beach election officials decided to put the list of candidates across two pages. An arrow ran from each candidate's name to their punch hole. But many voters found the form too confusing to be sure who they were voting for.
At the first official count, Pat Buchanan won 3407 votes in Palm Beach County. Latest reports give George Bush a 224 vote lead over Gore in the entire state, which will decide the national election. This means that if just one in ten of Buchanan's votes on the controversial form were meant for Gore, the mistake could put the wrong man in the White House.
Plain English Campaign's founder director Chrissie Maher described the mix-up as stunning.
'It just goes to show how serious a confusing document can be. We've all been irritated when we get baffled by our video recorder instructions and tape the wrong channel. But it hardly compares to a confusing form deciding the most powerful position on the planet.
'I hope this mistake doesn't cheat the American people of their democratic choice. But if it does, perhaps people will finally learn to test forms properly before unleashing them on the public.'
There are now claims that 19,000 votes have been disqualified in Palm Beach County because people mistakenly voted twice. This is around six times the figure that experts would expect.
Pearl earns world's first Internet Crystal Mark
18 August 2000
Finance firm Pearl has become the first company to sign up to Plain English Campaign's 'Internet Crystal Mark' scheme.
Plain English Campaign's staff and supporters will monitor Pearl's site for gobbledygook, giving the firm ongoing feedback on any problems with the clarity of the site.
Chrissie Maher, founder-director of Plain English Campaign, said the Internet Crystal Mark was the solution to a 21st century problem.
'With the traditional Crystal Mark for printed documents, the organisation can't change the content of the document without letting us test the changes first. While this works with a leaflet or brochure, websites are changing every minute of the day.
'The Internet Crystal Mark means taking a different approach. We now monitor the site, with the help of all our supporters who use the web, and bring any problems to the webmaster's attention.
'This doesn't mean dropping our standards. The public still won't tolerate gobbledygook. The Internet Crystal Mark is just a way to bring plain English to this new form of communication.'
Duncan Hopper, director of e-commerce for Pearl/AMP, said:
'We are delighted to achieve this important first on the Internet. Pearl is committed to straightforward advice about the financial aspects of life. We have already achieved the Crystal Mark on more than 50 printed documents. This recognition for our website shows that Pearl, an AMP company, is one of the world leaders on the Internet.'
The Internet Crystal Mark scheme has a dedicated website at www.plainenglish.co.uk/internet_crystal_mark/
Australian visit means plain English has conquered the globe!
24 July 2000
Two plain English campaigners are visiting the last continent in a two year crusade to spread their call for clarity.
George Maher (eldest son of Plain English Campaign founder-director Chrissie Maher) and John Wild arrive in Canberra today to start a month-long visit to Australia and New Zealand.
They will be giving presentations, meeting plain language supporters, helping firms work on editing their documents, and hearing bids from cities hoping to host Plain English Campaign's next international conference.
The trip completes a two year global expedition:
- In September 1998, George and John spoke at a major language conference in Johannesburg. The speech followed Plain English Campaign's earlier work funding a project to rewrite the country's bill of rights in plain English.
- In October and November 1998, George and John visited five cities in India to run plain English seminars.
- Also in November, they visited Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo for a series of training sessions designed to eliminate legalese.
- Earlier this year, they spoke at a plain English conference in Houston, as well as visiting Ottawa and Helsinki.
'We've come a long way from Parliament Square', George said this week, referring to Plain English Campaign's first public protest in 1979. 'But now people speak of the global economy, we want to make sure that gobbledygook doesn't become a global language.'
John explained why Australia was the latest target. 'As well as completing our visits to every continent, we're responding to demand. Other than the United Kingdom and United States, we get more visitors to our website from Australia than any other country.
'None of our trips are meant to impose a particular style of writing on anybody. They are just an opportunity for us to share 21 years of plain English experience as well as seeing how other cultures tackle jargon and waffle.'
As with any country, the campaigners will be faced with local examples of baffling prose. One example, found by an Australian law firm, stated that:
'The creditors and the sureties jointly and severally covenant with the debtor that if and so long as the instalments of the composition [and the costs charges expenses and remuneration] are punctually paid in accordance with the covenants in that behalf contained above the creditors will not nor will the sureties or any of them bring or prosecute any action or proceeding whatsoever against the debtor or attach, molest or impede the debtor in his person goods or estate for or on account of any of the debts or claims of the creditors or the sureties in respect of which the creditors and the sureties are entitled to receive payment of the composition under this deed and this deed may be pleaded as a defence to any such action or proceeding which may have been or may subsequently be brought or prosecuted against the debtor his person goods or estate for or on account of any of such debt or claim.'
'If they can survive that, we'll be pleased to see George and John back at the end of August,' Chrissie Maher said. 'But if they start speaking in such legalese themselves we might just have to extend their continental visits to Antarctica!'
Free plain English guide untangles financial jargon
5 July 2000
Plain English Campaign's 'A to Z of financial terms' will be available free to everybody from today (Wednesday 5 July).
The booklet gives plain English explanations of almost 500 financial terms, covering subjects from banking and tax to property law and credit. It is based on Plain English Campaign's two decades of editing documents from most of Britain's major financial organisations.
Campaign founder-director Chrissie Maher said it was almost a shame the guide had to be produced at all.
'There should be no need for a glossary like this, but the demand for the copy on our website has shown that people are still being baffled by the jargon. We can now give everyone a fighting chance of understanding finance, not just those with internet access.
'As well as helping ordinary people, we hope the guide will be an inspiration to the finance industry. We get a lot of calls from firms who want to communicate clearly, but need some pointers on how to explain their finance-speak in plain English.
'We welcome any comments, criticism or suggestions about the guide so that we can revise it in the future. If nothing else, we want this A to Z to get people talking about financial terms and what they really mean.'
Anti-jargon advert sparks four-letter fury
13 June 2000
Plain English Campaign's Chrissie Maher experienced a first today, declaring that an advert about management jargon was in 'too plain English'.
The advert, for website 'freeloader.com', pictures a man standing next to a board full of management jargon. The caption reads:
'Ever heard your boss say 'think outside the box'? Exactly, he's a t*at.'
'I'm not some old prude who's shocked by foul language,' Chrissie said today. 'I spent long enough working in a factory in Liverpool to hear every obscenity under the sun.'
'But there's no place for such an offensive term in an advert. The writers probably think they're being clever by using plain English. But plain English is about having the courtesy to consider your audience when you write. Offending the reader isn't plain English.'
Standard Life bosses offered vote on plain English
6 June 2000
Plain English Campaign has helped lighten the workload for Standard Life's battle against the carpetbaggers - by sending them a voting form.
The form will allow Standard Life to admit or deny their guilt on two charges of anti-democratic behaviour:
- telling policyholders which way to vote on the voting form itself; and
- putting the token argument for mutualisation on a purple background - long established as the worst possible colour for making text legible.
'We don't have a problem with Standard Life putting the case against demutualisation,' Plain English Campaign founder-director Chrissie Maher said today. 'But we deplore their decision to write 'support the board and vote no to all the resolutions' on the voting form, directly above the space for voting. This is like voting in a general election and having the ballot paper tell you who to vote for.'
'And while the 'carpetbaggers' get their say in Standard Life's 'information pack', it's mysteriously the only page in the document printed on a purple background. Every study of typography and design shows this is the absolute worst way to present text - if, that is, you intend anybody to be able to read it.
'Plain English Campaign isn't arguing either way on the demutualisation issue. But we passionately believe policyholders have a right to make an informed decision. It seems Standard Life haven't let people be properly informed, and they've gone too far in influencing their decision.'
Campaign's advice to website: don't treat the public like fools
24 February 2000
Plain English Campaign's fiery figurehead Chrissie Maher today reacted angrily to a website's report describing the public as 'financially illiterate'.
She told researchers at the 'consumer friendly' website 'Motley Fool' that their description was offensive. 'Phrases like this make it seem that the public is at fault. By using terms like 'ignorance', they imply that it's ordinary people who are to blame when, for example, 80% of us cannot describe a retirement annuity.
'This is bull. You don't have to be stupid to be baffled by the jargon and waffle that financial firms hit us with. And when you have a system as complicated as the Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs), how is anybody meant to be in with a fighting chance.
'I've battled all my life to tell people to stand up to jargon and not feel ashamed and at fault if they can't understand the waffle. Telling people they are 'financially illiterate' will shatter all that work just for the sake of a cheap headline.
'If the people behind this site really want to make finance accessible to everyone, they should spend less time treating us like fools for not knowing what the FTSE 100 is, and more time campaigning for finance firms to speak to us in plain English.'
Plain English Campaign warns mortgage firms: Don't take advantage of voluntary CAT standards
26 January 2000
Plain English Campaign today welcomed the Treasury's announcement of CAT (standing for charges, access and terms) standards for mortgages - but warned that lenders must not take advantage of the system.
The Campaign commented specifically on the requirement for firms offering a 'CAT standard mortgage' to provide information 'in language which is fair, clear and not misleading.'
'It's sad that the Government has had to introduce these regulations,' founder-director Chrissie Maher said, 'but honest firms should have nothing to fear. The standards say that anyone taking out a CAT standard mortgage should not be hit with surprises or unforeseen features. That's the aim of our honesty mark scheme, and NatWest are the only mortgage providers with the courage to sign up so far.'
She also warned firms against taking advantage of the voluntary regulations. 'Unfortunately the CAT standard system doesn't objectively test whether or not a company really is using clear language - it's all based on the firm's word. Our worry is that firms will try to hoodwink the public by simply claiming to meet the clear language requirement.
'If a company's documents aren't:
- tested on the public to make sure they can be read, understood and acted upon from a single reading (our Crystal Mark standard); and
- totally true and fair, with no hidden extras or misleading terms (our Honesty Mark standard),
then that company shouldn't claim to meet the CAT standards.'
Note to editors: The Honesty Mark is available for any document with a Crystal Mark where the organisation is willing to sign a legal declaration that there are no hidden extras and no misleading terms.
MP calls for laws in plain English
19 January 2000
A Labour MP is calling for all proposed legislation to be tested on the public for clarity by Plain English Campaign.
Brian White, member for North East Milton Keynes, is leading an adjournment debate (Thursday 20 January) on the language of parliamentary drafting. His suggestions include:
- using plain English instead of legalese in Parliamentary Bills wherever possible;
- including a purpose clause in each Act of Parliament to make clear what the new law is intended to do; and
- letting Plain English Campaign independently test every draft bill on the public to find potential confusion.
Mr White said today that his proposals were 'the ultimate aim of everyone who believes the law belongs to the people and not just to the lawyers.
'This doesn't mean producing legislation that resembles an infant's reading book, but it does mean making a greater effort to use everyday language wherever possible. There's no point drafting convoluted legalese to be sure of precision if people then can't disentangle the meaning. The lawyers are always going to argue over the interpretation anyway, so it's far better to give them something clear to work with.'
Plain English Campaign's founder-director Chrissie Maher said Mr White should be applauded. 'This might seem like an impossible goal, but I learned years ago that aiming for the 'impossible' never hurts. Every step we can take towards clearer legal drafting brings us closer towards true democracy. Frustrated ministers and company bosses often ask what it will take to finally make me happy and stop me battling. If we ever reach the day when every law that affects the ordinary people of Britain is tested on the public to make sure we have a fighting chance of understanding it, then I'll think about hanging up my campaigner's hat!'
You can read Plain English Campaign's full arguments for clearer drafting here.
British tripe exports set to rise?
19 January 2000
The European Commission today announced their new reform strategy. Britain's Neil Kinnock said that 'the aim of the Reform Strategy is clear'.
He added that 'the Reform Strategy proposals identify the ways to efficiently integrate assessment of resources with decisions on positive and crucially negative priorities. A system of Activity Based Management will be introduced, facilitated by Strategic Planning and Programming arrangements under the authority of the President, and by the use of targeting, evaluation and accountability operations overseen by the Budget DG.'
Plain English Campaign's founder-director Chrissie Maher commented 'I'm glad that's been cleared up! We used to send a pound of tripe in the post to people who produced waffle like this. I'm not sure what the current rules are on food exports, but this statement certainly tempts us to revive the practice.'
'Joking aside, there's a serious point here. Every person in Europe has the right to make up their own minds on these reforms. Without having the detail in plain English, we are all starved of that right.'
Plain English Campaign asks for Glasgow readers' help
11 January 2000
Clarity crusaders would like the people of Glasgow to help with some informal research. Plain English Campaign wants to know whether they could understand and act upon a recent letter from Glasgow City Council.
They wrote to over 5000 parents in the city to tell them about the 'proposed delineation of Bannerman High School'. One local man contacted the Campaign to ask if we could help decipher the letter.
The letter begins: 'At its meeting on 11 November 1999, the education committee of Glasgow City Council agreed to adopt the following proposal that:
'a delineated area be created for Bannerman High School and that it be formed by the aggregation of those parts of the delineated areas of the existing associated primary schools which are zoned to Bannerman High School as shown at Appendix 2'.
The council claims that the man who complained to Plain English Campaign is the only person among 5000 parents who had difficulty understanding the letter. We find this difficult to believe, but we want the people to let us know.
Did you read this letter? Did you understand it? Did you have to read it twice or more, or did you throw it straight in the bin? Or could all 5000 parents really read, understand and act upon it on a single reading - the only true test of plain English.
Let us know your views by writing to us at PO Box 3, New Mills, High Peak, SK22 4QP, e-mailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning us on 01663 744409.
1999 press releases
Campaign welcomes criminal court reforms as 'best Christmas present ever'
21 December 1999
Plain English Campaign has welcomed the announcement of plans to banish legal jargon and outdated Latin from their last hiding place in England and Wales - the criminal courts.
Lord Justice Auld will head a wide-ranging review of the criminal courts, including the legal phrases which so often baffle ordinary people. After the success of this year's Woolf reforms, which dealt with the civil courts, legal experts believe this new review will see plain English win another victory.
The review comes as Plain English Campaign announces that its supporters have given a crystal-clear thumbs up to the new style of legal language in the civil courts. The campaign asked volunteers to spend an hour in a local civil court and see whether the reforms made the law truly understandable. Virtually every reply said that lawyers were following the new guidelines on plain English terms. Just as encouragingly, responses from those in the legal profession said the changes had inspired a change in attitudes, with lawyers following the spirit as well as the letter of the reforms.
Chrissie Maher, founder director of Plain English Campaign, was delighted at the news of the criminal court review:
'This really is the best Christmas present we could have. We can only offer our full support and backing, and would be pleased to give Lord Auld any help we can.
'As happy as I was the day the Woolf reforms took effect, it was a little story this autumn that convinced me it was for real. A young trainee barrister we know started his course and right at the start of his textbook was a crystal-clear explanation of why plain English is usually more appropriate than legal jargon. We could be just a generation away from a country full of plain English lawyers.
'Between the Woolf reforms and the new review by Lord Auld, I truly believe we can take the courts out of the 19th century and straight into the 21st!'
Wanted while it lasts - 20th century twaddle
21 December 1999
Forget Chris Tarrant - if you earned a pound for every time Christmas ended in tears because nobody could decipher the instructions on little Billy's new toy, we could all be millionaires!
Plain English Campaign is launching its final appeal of the 1990s by asking for bemused mums and dads to send us the baffling instructions from this year's presents.
'Last year was a bit of a letdown with our appeal,' founder director Chrissie Maher admitted. 'We thought at first it was because everyone was getting more traditional toys, but it turned out the parents were more concerned with their own new toys - computers and DIY kits to name a couple.
'We managed to shame the producers of flat-pack furniture on prime-time television, and there's been more plain English work in computing this year than ever before. But the work doesn't stop there!
'It seems the most popular 'toy' this year will be a mobile phone, and we already get a lot of complaints about contracts and hire terms. So whether it's computer games or cellphones that plague your family with bewildering instructions, please let us know so we can kick off the new century with a fighting attitude!'
Examples of gobbledygook should be sent to the campaign at PO Box 3, New Mills, High Peak, SK22 4QP or e-mail to email@example.com
Liverpool youth get on the ball to shoe children of Ghana
22 November 1999
Former Anfield great Alan Kennedy is joining local schoolchildren to raise money for orphans in Ghana ' and their fancy footwork will help buy desperately needed shoes.
The children of St Teresa's Catholic Junior School are holding a sponsored ball-juggling event this Wednesday (24th) at the school in Utting Avenue East. The event, kicking off at 1pm, will see pupils attempt to keep the ball in the air for longer than Reds legend Alan.
The event is being supported by insurance firm AXA's football in the community project. They have donated a new kit for the school team as well as sweatshirts and tracksuit trousers for the children to use on the day and then take home.
Carol Brown, a founder member of Plain English Campaign, and mother of three St Teresa's pupils, is co-ordinating the event. She explained why this event was such a worthy cause:
'These aren't rich kids ' they come from pretty tough backgrounds ' but they got together to try and do something for other children in Ghana.'
Plain English Campaign's connection with Ghana started in 1996 when they were giving a series of lectures in the capital, Accra. They came across an orphanage in a village called Akorabo with no electricity, income or water supply. Immediately dropping work, they launched an appeal to drill fresh water wells for the village.
'The saddest thing was when, after everyone's work collecting clothes for the orphans, there wasn't enough to go around,' Carol explained this week. 'There was just enough for every child to walk away with one shoe and one bare foot.
'When the children at St Teresa's heard about this, they said they had to do something. It might not seem like much, but giving every child there a pair of shoes is a big thing. Once they got talking, they decided football was the most appropriate way of raising the cash.'
Techno-babble goes public
4 November 1999
As the Government announced plans for a new stock market for technology firms, Plain English campaigners today called for crystal-clear prospectuses when companies go public.
The Securities and Exchange Commission in the United States requires firms offering shares to provide the public with clear information. Plain English Campaign's Chrissie Maher urged the British Government to bring in similar rules in this country:
'With so many internet companies going public, a lot of ordinary people are at risk of being caught up in the hype and baffled by the small print. There's so much interest in the new technology firms that a lot of people are investing for the first time.
'There's no excuse for not using plain English ' the Americans have shown it can be done. It's still up to people to decide if the potential risks and benefits of buying a new share issue are worthwhile ' but with plain English, that decision can be an informed one.'
Help solve the Y2J problem (J for jargon)
28 October 1999
Plain English Campaign founder director Chrissie Maher today stunned onlookers by begging to be bombarded with long-winded phrases and waffly words.
She appealed for the public's help in compiling a list of 2000 pieces of jargon and their plain English alternatives. Plain English Campaign will publish the list as a free guide during the year 2000.
'We already have an A to Z of alternative words,' Chrissie explained. 'But it's a few years old now, and we want ordinary people to give us the latest jargon ' and try to translate it into everyday English.
'We've published A to Zs of legal terms and pension phrases, and now we want to do the ultimate list for the year 2000. The new list will be in sections, so whether it's education or e-commerce, you'll have a fighting chance with the latest buzz-words.'
To launch the appeal, Plain English Campaign has turned the original 'A to Z of alternative words' into a downloadable documenton its website.
'We hope this page will help writers looking for everyday alternatives to convoluted phrases', Chrissie said:
- 'In the proximity isn't close to clear;
- 'remittance still needs paying;
- 'per annum is confusing every year;
- 'and axiomatic goes without saying.'
Jargon and suggested alternatives should be sent to Plain English Campaign, PO Box 3, New Mills, High Peak, SK22 4QP or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
(Click here for the on-line A-Z of alternative words)
Jargon-busters on form in Whitehall
26 October 1999
The Government has called in Plain English Campaign to help develop clearer forms across public life.
The move is part of the Cabinet Office's new Service Action Team's action plan to make government services more accessible and available up to 24 hours a day. The Cabinet Office Minister Ian McCartney launched the action plan today.
Plain English Campaign's government specialist George Maher explained why clearer forms are good news for everyone:
'Every time somebody makes a mistake on a form because it isn't clear, it costs time and money. The public purse pays to print a new copy of the form, to send it out, and to collect the correct information. Meanwhile the person filling in the form faces delays, which can cause anything from inconvenience to financial problems.'
He explained why Plain English Campaign sees ordinary public servants as the key to clearer forms:
'It's the administrative staff who have to put right mistakes on forms, and they can tell us straightaway which problems crop up repeatedly. It's easy to blame the public for making mistakes, but the fault nearly always lies with the form itself.'
George also told why the campaign is not charging for its work on this project:
'The whole point of Plain English Campaign is that every penny we earn comes from plain English and every penny we spend goes into plain English. There's hardly anyone who isn't affected by one Government form or another, so we all stand to gain.
'This scheme means that the Government saves money, Plain English Campaign gets a valuable research opportunity, and the public can get whatever they need with a lot less trouble. Now that's what I call joined-up government!'
CAT standards ' a dog's dinner'
11 October 1999
CAT standard' ISA providers are keeping the public in the dark over their legal right to plain English.
A Plain English Campaign investigation of 15 leading financial firms found that 13 offered an Individual Savings Account (ISA) that met the Government's CAT standards (Charges, Access and Terms). Yet none of their websites told savers that they can demand plain English be used in these schemes.
The Treasury's rules clearly state that:
'Providers of CAT standard ISAs must be committed to treating customers saving through these products fairly. This includes use of plain English, together with generally avoiding complex or misleading features in product design.'
Plain English Campaign's founder director Chrissie Maher today listed the proven failings of the CAT standards:
Anybody can claim to meet the standards and it is up to the public to prove otherwise.
Firms are blatantly ignoring the Treasury's instructions that 'the term CATmark should be avoided as it may mislead savers by implying that there is an associated logo', with many companies inventing just such a logo.
There is no objective testing of whether a firm's documents are truly in plain English.
The public have been kept totally unaware that the CAT standards give them a legal right to plain English. This means ISA brochures that they can read, understand and act upon, without a second reading.
'The entire ISA system is too complex already, and the poor sales prove this,' Chrissie commented. 'But the public is being so misled and ill-advised that I can only describe the CAT standards as a dog's dinner.'
Notes: The fifteen financial firms examined were: Abbey National, Alliance and Leicester, B2, Barclays, Bradford & Bingley, Cheltenham & Gloucester, Halifax, Lloyds/TSB, Nat West, Norwich Union, Royal Bank of Scotland, Scottish Widows, Virgin Direct and Yorkshire Building Society.
Royal Bank of Scotland and Cheltenham & Gloucester did not offer CAT standard ISAs.
Abbey National and Halifax have both earned Crystal Marks (the public's seal of approval for plain English) for ISA-related brochures and leaflets.
Grass roots granny lends hand to lords
26 August 1999
Plain English crusader Chrissie Maher is doing her bit for the establishment.
She's coming to the rescue of hereditary peers who must justify their jobs in just 75 words. Chrissie is offering free places on Plain English Campaign's regular open courses to all hereditary peers.
'I'm no toff,' plain-speaking Chrissie said, 'but I don't mind helping lords and ladies to avoid waffling.'
Interested peers should ask their servants to call Helen Mayo on 01663 744409
Plain English pension guide hits the high street
9 August 1999
Free copies of Plain English Campaign's 'Pensions in plain English' booklet will be available from branches of Abbey National from Thursday 12 August.
The booklet is a brief question and answer style introduction to what pensions are, how they work, and the different types available.
The guide was first released in April, but has so far only been available through Plain English Campaign's website. Founder director Chrissie Maher explained that public demand had prompted the hard copies:
'We've been swamped by people who want to read the guide and, while we've helped many of them find local access to the web, we do realise that many others have no internet access.
'Abbey National have already proved their commitment to plain English in pensions, so we were delighted when they asked to put our booklet into all their branches. Naturally you don't have to be an Abbey customer to get hold of the guide.'
Hugo Thorman, pensions director at Abbey National, said:
'Pensions in plain English removes the jargon and aims to make pensions more accessible to everybody ' something we at Abbey National are totally committed to.'
Plain English Campaign also has a detailed glossary of pension terms, 'The A to Z of pensions', on its website. As this is intended for reference rather than cover to cover reading, the A to Z will stay on the internet for the moment. This means it can be instantly updated as new pension terms develop, and firms continue to agree common definitions.
20 years on, plain English figurehead slams 'gobbledygook in disguise'
26 July 1999
As Plain English Campaign celebrates its 20th anniversary today (Monday), founder director Chrissie Maher publicly named the biggest threat to plain English: gobbledygook in disguise.
'It's been creeping up for the last few years and, although I've tried to live with it, the time has come to speak out', Chrissie said. 'The Gobbledygook monster may be battered and bruised, but he's making a comeback under the veil of plain language.
'People are starting to realise that simply saying something is in plain English is a lot easier than actually doing the job properly. One problem with this is that it devalues our hard work. We're sick and tired of organisations using the words 'plain English' to pass off garbage that they don't dare to put up against the Crystal Mark challenge.
'But we've been around long enough to take care of ourselves. What's far more important is how this affects ordinary people. When you read something that is claimed to be in 'plain language' or 'plain English', and then can't understand it, you are left feeling humiliated and powerless. If you can't understand information, you can't make informed decisions.
Chrissie today named a hitlist of some of the worst offenders:
- The Financial Services Authority - 'They've come up with a series of 'plain language' leaflets, but the only testing they seem to have done was after publishing them. And they admit that the audience they asked for opinions were the very people who already understand financial products.'
(The Financial Services Authority used three town meetings to get feedback on their financial education leaflet. Their own research revealed that 49% of workers at the meetings were employed in financial services, and almost two-thirds had previously hired an Independent Financial Advisor.)
- Government CAT standards - 'The voluntary Government standards for the new Individual Savings Accounts say providers must be committed to using plain English. Yet anyone who wants can say they meet the standards, with no testing. It seems like plain English is less important than your art department coming up with a pretty 'catmark' logo.
- PC Advisor Magazine - 'Their slogan is 'Expert Advice in plain English.' They asked us to endorse their magazine, and we turned them down because it just wasn't good enough.
- Virgin Direct - 'They made such a big deal of their 'jargon-free' products that we took a look ourselves ' and their literature is nowhere near Crystal Mark standard. Still, at least the public had their say. Last year, Scottish Widows, whose pensions brochure earned the Crystal Mark, sold 129,000 pensions. Virgin managed just 15,000. They've found out the hard way that testing a document after it's published is too late.
'My message to organisations is crystal clear', Chrissie explained. 'If you don't care about customers making informed decisions, then go ahead and ignore plain English ' but have the guts to say so. Just please don't say you use plain English unless you test your documents on the public before sending them to the printers.
'I've given 20 years of my life to plain English, and it chokes me up to see the struggle sold out like this. But this isn't about me, it's about the public ' and they deserve better.'
Home is where the mark is
1 June 1999
Thanks to some of the latest documents to earn the Crystal Mark, it is possible to have an entirely plain English home. House buyers can:
- have their prospective home checked by BBG Surveyors (the new name for Black Horse) and get a Crystal Marked 'SecureMove' report;
- check their rights under the Mortgage Code in the Crystal Marked Council of Mortgage Lenders' leaflet 'You and Your Mortgage';
- read up on building insurance, contents insurance and mortgage payment protection in a series of Crystal Marked Association of British Insurers leaflets;
- get a Crystal Marked quotation contract from the Federation of Master Builders;
- install double-glazing and a conservatory by signing Coldseal Windows' Crystal Marked contract;
- heat their home with British Gas - whose revised terms and conditions were Crystal Marked this week; and
- power the house with Norweb, whose conditions for electricity supply are ' you guessed it ' Crystal Marked.
Plain English Campaign founder director Chrissie Maher said 'the Crystal Mark is clearly the only sign of clarity that matters. I think it's so successful because companies know that nothing gets the Crystal Mark without being properly tested on the public. We always say people should never sign a document unless they can understand it, and now they can set up home without once facing the gobbledygook monster.'
Consumers and stores unite against lethal Latin labelling
19 May 1999
Plain English Campaign today urged every store in Britain to follow Asda's lead in overcoming dangerous EU regulations that demand that plant-based ingredients are labelled in Latin. And they praised a manufacturer for their plain English response to a safety scare.
The controversial 'International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients', which took effect at the start of this year, leaves ordinary shoppers to decipher a range of Latin terms in cosmetics. People with a potentially life-threatening allergy to nuts are expected to look for 'arachis hypogaea' ' or peanut oil.
Chrissie Maher, founder director of Plain English Campaign, said today that it was time for the public and the retailers to take the lead. 'We're still battling European bureaucracy, but that takes time ' and lives are still at risk.
'In the meantime, it's up to everyone to demand that their supermarket serve the public as well as the regulators. Shops do have to use these ridiculous Latin labels, but there's nothing to stop them adding their own plain English ingredient lists.
'Yes, it might cost more money, but every responsible supermarket will know that the safety of consumers is far more important. Asda has taken the lead, and we hope every store will follow them ' this is about serving the public, not a public relations war.
'Of course this doesn't mean the regulators are off the hook ' if our civil courts can manage without Latin, we won't stand for it on supermarket shelves.
Chrissie Maher also praised Nestlé for their plain English response to a recent safety scare. The firm found that the Toffee Crisp ice cream had traces of nuts not mentioned in the packaging, and put out a safety notice in national newspapers.
'The notice was a perfect example of plain English in action,' Chrissie said. 'It didn't try to hide the problem behind small print or waffle, and it spoke directly to the consumer. They concentrated on the safety of customers, rather than trying to shift the blame. Shoppers appreciate straight talking and clear information.'
Campaigners celebrate as dead language is finally buried (Update)
23 April 1999
Plain English Campaign is preparing for the first day of the crystal-clear era in Britain's civil courts ' and warning that 2,000 volunteers will be hunting down the remnants of legalese.
New rules, which take effect on Monday, spell doom for phrases like 'in camera' and 'ex parte'. All civil courts will now use 'in private' and 'without notice' instead.
The reforms also see an end to obscure jargon such as an 'Anton Piller order' (now simply a 'search order'), and even replaces 'plaintiff' with 'claimant' and 'writ' with 'claim form'.
'This is a stunning victory for plain English,' founder director Chrissie Maher said today. 'Courts will be run for the public instead of the lawyers, and for the 21st century instead of the 16th.
'Finally the legal system will realise that everybody's right to justice includes the right to understand court proceedings.
'The Lord Chancellor said he wanted a 'commitment to making access to justice a reality, not a slogan.' Well, he's done that and more.
'And if any lawyers were thinking of trying to slip a bit of jargon or Latin into court proceedings, they've got another think coming. We've asked all our 2,000 volunteers to keep an eye out for anyone using the archaic terms, and we're not afraid to name and shame.
'There's no hiding place for gobbledygook.'
Pensions minister to launch plain English guides
23 April 1999
Stephen Timms MP, the minister for pensions, will officially launch two free guides from Plain English Campaign next Tuesday (27 April).
Printed copies of 'Pensions in plain English' and 'The A to Z of pensions' will be available at a press launch from 2pm (new time). The launch will be held in the Minstrel Suite of the Waldorf Hotel in London's Aldwych. Lunch will be available from 1.30.
Caroline Instance, chief executive of the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority, and Stephanie Hawthorne, editor of Pensions World, will also speak at the launch.
The guides will also be available to the public for free downloading and viewing at www.plainenglish.co.uk from 27 April.
'Pensions in plain English' is a short leaflet introducing the basics of what pensions are and how they work. 'The A to Z of pensions' is a reference guide that anyone can use to get plain English explanations of unfamiliar terms. This guide should also be useful for companies who want to explain complicated terms to their customers.
The two guides are the result of almost a year's work, including research into pensions, testing of ordinary people's understanding, and lengthy editing work. John Lister, spokesman for Plain English Campaign, said the guides have an important difference to the dozens of similar documents available:
'The Plain English Campaign guides are entirely independent of any other company. While pension firms often publish explanatory guides with one eye on their business, our guides aren't selling anything but the plain English cause.
'We're not claiming our guides are perfect, but they should give the ordinary person a fighting chance. It's true that we aren't pension experts, but neither are the millions of people who have to take responsibility for their retirement. Somebody had to take the first step towards clear, common definitions, and we hope we've done it.
'Our ultimate dream is that anyone can read a term in a pension brochure or policy and know exactly what that term means, safe in the knowledge that every firm will interpret it the same way. We hope our guides, and the debate they spark, will take us a little further towards achieving that dream.'
DSS gets £6,000,000,000 bill for waffle
23 February 1999
After our protests went unheard, Plain English Campaign has sent the Department for Social Security (DSS) a demand for six billion pounds.
The invoice matches the amount of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) that goes unclaimed each year. This is around half the DLA that should be paid. DSS Under-Secretary of State Baroness Hollis of Heigham admitted in Parliament last November that complicated claim forms were a major reason for people not claiming.
'When we see gobbledygook starving people of their rights, we normally try gentle persuasion, followed by kicking up a fuss,' Plain English Campaign founder director Chrissie Maher explained. 'But this is six billion pounds we're talking about.
'Enough is enough and it's time for a change. The DSS often makes a real effort when it comes to plain English, so we hope that seeing this horrendous figure in black and white will remind them just how serious this particular case is.
'Every day that the issue is passed from committee to committee is another day that ordinary people are deprived of the money they need. Nobody deserves to be disabled by gobbledygook.'
Genetically modified food - let the label tell the story
15 February 1999
Plain English Campaign is urging all supermarkets to clearly label genetically modified food ' and warned that the new Food Standards Agency will be duty bound to make them do so.
Food labelling is one of the campaign's main targets for 1999, and workers at the New Mills office have been carrying out a study since the New Year.
'We'll eventually be using our study to make proposals on the whole subject of labelling,' founder director Chrissie Maher said today. 'But there's been so much concern and confusion over genetically modified food that we felt we had to speak out now.'
'It's not our place to say whether or not genetically modified food is safe, but everyone has the right to make their own decision. You can't do that unless you know exactly what it is you are buying.
'Every shop is eager to tell you when something has been organically grown, so there's no reason they can't tell us if something has been genetically modified.'
Weekend reports show Sainsbury's, Asda, Marks & Spencer and Tesco either already or intend to label genetically modified food, and Plain English Campaign hopes consumer demand will drive other shops to do the same.
But they warn that the new Food Standards Agency will be expected to crack down on shops that don't provide informative labelling. The draft legislation for the agency says it 'will strive to ensure that the public has adequate, clearly presented information to allow them to make informed choices'.
'We're working on the practical details of presenting complex information such as nutritional values and artificial additives,' Chrissie Maher explained. 'But genetically modified food is simple enough. Either it is, or it isn't ' and we all have the right to know.'
Troubled Hoddle wins Bull Boy post
2 February 1999
Plain English Campaigners have announced a new job for England football chief Glenn Hoddle. An explanation of his controversial comments on disabled people was so baffling, he has been appointed the campaign's first 'Bull Boy'.
'Explaining' his reported comments, Hoddle told ITN's Trevor McDonald:
'I do not believe that. At this moment in time, if that changes in years to come I don't know, but what happens here today and changes as we go along that is part of life's learning and part of your inner beliefs. But at this moment in time I did not say them things and at the end of the day I want to put that on record because it has hurt people.'
According to Plain English spokesmen John Lister, 'Hoddle sounds like he works for the F Eh?. We can only assume he was a dictionary compiler in a previous life to come back as a waffler of this quality.'
Campaigners celebrate as dead language is finally buried
29 January 1999
After a 20 year struggle, Plain English Campaign is today celebrating the final victory over an old enemy ' Latin and legal jargon in court.
New guidelines, published by the Lord Chancellor's office today, spell doom for phrases like 'in camera' and 'ex parte'. From 26 April, all civil courts will instead use 'in private' and 'without notice'.
The reforms also see an end to obscure jargon such as an 'Anton Piller order' (now simply a 'search order'), and even replaces 'plaintiff' with 'claimant' and 'writ' with 'claim form'.
'This is a stunning victory for plain English,' spokesman John Lister said today. 'Courts will be run for the public instead of the lawyers, and for the 21st century instead of the 16th.'
'Finally the legal system will realise that everybody's right to justice includes the right to understand court proceedings.'
Chrissie Maher, who battled jargon for ten years before launching Plain English Campaign, was 'gobsmacked' at the news:
'The Lord Chancellor said he wanted a 'commitment to making access to justice a reality, not a slogan.' Well, he's done that and more.
'This may be our greatest victory yet, and everybody who's battled legal jargon should be filled with pride. For every success we've had, be it on benefit forms, insurance policies or council leaflets, we were always told 'It's a shame you'll never sort out the lawyers'.
'Well, today we have. Plain English in courts isn't an impossible luxury or a trendy policy, it's a basic human right ' and now we've got it.'
Taxman turns axeman as Self Assessment mistake murders 136 trees
28 January 1999
A feeling of déjà vu hit Plain English Campaign this week as the 31 January deadline for Self Assessment forms ends another year of chaos and confusion.
Our pleas and warnings, which go back to July 1996, have again gone unheeded as ordinary people battle through the taxman's gobbledygook under threat of fines and interest charges.
Yet it seems even Hector himself can't work out the bills correctly. More than 800,000 statements of account (22% of the total) include demands for money not due until July.
A mailout of baffling correction letters, which many taxpayers interpreted as yet another tax bill, is estimated to have cost around £172,000 and used paper equivalent to 136 trees
Plain English Campaign spokesman John Lister said this week that the latest fiasco proved the need to test documents on the public:
'If the Inland Revenue can make a simple mistake on 800,000 letters, why are we still forced to correctly complete the financial equivalent of The Krypton Factor or face fines and penalty interest' Whoever designs the taxman's forms and letters seems to forget they are sent to ordinary people instead of tax experts.
'To make it worse, the letter of 'explanation' for this latest error simply makes a complicated situation more confusing. One of our expert editors, who translates gobbledygook for a living, admitted that she couldn't make sense of this letter.
'It's no good Hector and his mob using the excuse that the tax system is complicated ' if they want us to do our own taxes, it's their job to make sure we can understand the forms.
'In the meantime, every penny we pay in penalty charges should be regarded as a tax on bewilderment.'
Notes for Editors:
- The £172,000 estimate is based on a recent office supplies catalogue with 800,000 sheets of A4 paper (£2,064), 800,000 manila envelopes (£10,392) and 800,000 second class stamps (£160,000).
- The trees estimate is based on an average weight of five kilogrammes for a ream (500 sheets) of A4 paper and 500 A5 envelopes. For 800,000 letters, this totals 8 tonnes. Using a USA Today statistic of 17 trees saved for each tonne of paper recycled, this gives 136 trees.
FSA challenged to wipe out the waffle
19 January 1999
Plain English Campaign is calling on the Financial Services Authority (FSA) to demand clear, comparable information from financial firms.
In a formal response to the FSA consultation paper 'Promoting public understanding of financial services', we argue that the public have two rights when dealing with financial information:
- To fully understand the consequences of any decision they take, including actions they take in the future.
- To be able to make a fair and accurate comparison of the range of products and services on offer.
If compulsory regulations are not possible, we propose a voluntary agreement across the industry, requiring members to use standard definitions for financial terms, and standard systems for comparing numerical information.
Spokesman John Lister explained why the response focused so heavily on the finance industry rather than the public:
'If a bank started writing to customers in Greek, we wouldn't try to solve the problem by teaching everyone how to read Greek.
'While we back any action to increase public awareness, we have to tackle financial literature before we tackle financial literacy.'
Chrissie Maher's reaction to her Who's Who entry
13 January 1999
'I'm delighted with my entry. Although it's just my name, I'm there for all the ordinary people who have battled jargon and gobbledygook.
'It does seem a bit strange being among 'the great and the good', especially as I've probably annoyed half the people in the book.
'But at least I wasn't listed as 'the originator responsible for the aforesaid innovatory fraternity established to counteract excessive verbosity.