Sunday, 13 April 2008

Plain English, Red Tape & Corruption

Many years back (1979) there started a campaign called 'Plain English', which was an attempt (and reasonably successful I think) to present the English language in, well, Plain English. Corporate speak, jargon and just general bullshit was to be banished from the spoken and written word.

Lawyers, academics, politicans, public servants, corporate employees and the general public were encouraged to keep it simple and to simply 'cut the BS'.

Here's an example I found on ShareChat from the departing Elaine Campbell "My tenure as head of market supervision can perhaps be characterised as one of building the capacity of NZX as the front line regulator of its markets, and bringing to our performance of that role public accountability by ensuring transparency in our decision making". I wonder if she ever notices eyes glassing over when she speaks.

The Plain English Campaign website provide some fine examples of what the poor public has to put up with:

Before: High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.
After: Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.

Before: Your enquiry about the use of the entrance area at the library for the purpose of displaying posters and leaflets about Welfare and Supplementary Benefit rights, gives rise to the question of the provenance and authoritativeness of the material to be displayed. Posters and leaflets issued by the Central Office of Information, the Department of Health and Social Security and other authoritative bodies are usually displayed in libraries, but items of a disputatious or polemic kind, whilst not necessarily excluded, are considered individually.
After: Thank you for your letter asking for permission to put up posters in the library. Before we can give you an answer we will need to see a copy of the posters to make sure they won't offend anyone.

A fun pastime is to challenge those that use jargon, corporate speak and general 'gobbledygook'. Ask them what they mean in Plain English, half the time they have no idea, they simply parrot their colleagues and have been too proud to admit they don't understand the words themselves. Sometime their complete lack of comprehension leads them to mock you for your 'ignorance' - hehe, you know you've got them then.

Most crimes against Plain English is, more often than not, composed by the public servant. A person who has forgotten who they work for and have morphed into the ugly bureaucrat.

It is the bureaucrat that is suffocating our economy and it is the bureaucrat that needs to be pulled into line - urgently. The best means to do this is by mockery and reward. Mock the bureaucrat when they stifle us and award them when they act more like a public servant.

So we need a new campaign, one that smashes Red Tape, stifles Bureaucrats and gives us back our oxygen. Just have to think up a catchy name ...... uummmm!

A side battle of this campaign should be to discourage our children from taking government jobs, and if they do, to understand that they should be a benign public servant, not an aggressive blood sucking parasite.

A serious side effect of bureaucracy is corruption - I suppose a campaign against one is a campaign against the other - cool, now it sounds like a Crusade.


Paul said...

"Before: High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.
After: Children need good schools if they are to learn properly."

The simplification of this sentence is dangerous. I personally believe 'High-quality learning environments' should expand to ainclude libraries, the internet, extra curricular actives, the home enviroment, etc. 'the ongoing learning process' alludes not just to schools of all ranks (pre to post-grad) but also to on-job opportunities.
Learning is a process never ceased until death or Alzheimer's, and should be 'facilitated and opportunities enhanced' in all situations where it is appropriate to do so.

However for the most part I agree with you, especially in cases reading quickly or making clear concise statements are major advantges. But 'Children need good schools if they are to learn properly' is not an effective introduction to a discussion on education.

Annie Fox! said...

The example was purely an observation of mind numbing verboseness, it was not to be taken as a statement on education. Context is the key here.

Surely those sentence just numb your mind?

Paul said...

...Yeah, I just re-read the one about the library and I'm surprised I remembered I was sitting in front of a computer.

Anonymous said...

"unlike this logo, the taxpayer did not pay for this website"

The meaning of this is far from plain.

Annie Fox! said...

"unlike this logo, the taxpayer did not pay for this website"

Anonymous said... "The meaning of this is far from plain."

I'm not sure where you got that sentence from - not my blog.

Anonymous said...

The "Don't vote Labour" banner in your sidebar.

I know you are not responsible for this abomination, but I did find it on your blog.

Annie Fox! said...

Arh, now I understand.

Not quite sure why you are so upset about the "Don't Vote Labour" blog?

Anonymous said...

I am not at all upset about the "Don't Vote Labour" blog. I am upset about that sentence.

Aren't you?

Annie Fox! said...

Not today.

Annie Fox! said...

Not today.

Anonymous said...

What about today? :-)

Annie Fox! said...

hehe! No, no not today.

Julian Pistorius said...

Hi Anna!

Have you ever read Less Than Words Can Say, by Richard Mitchell (aka The Underground Grammarian)?

Foreword: "Words never fail. We hear them, we read them; they enter into the mind and become part of us for as long as we shall live. Who speaks reason to his fellow men bestows it upon them. Who mouths inanity disorders thought for all who listen. There must be some minimum allowable dose of inanity beyond which the mind cannot remain reasonable. Irrationality, like buried chemical waste, sooner or later must seep into all the tissues of thought."

It is a brilliant little book about the awful state of the English language. It casts a searing light on the people and ideas that are undermining the use of language for rational discourse. Highly recommended!

All the best