In a few weeks, it will be Plain English Day. Now, as interpreters and translators, we’re well aware that English can sometimes be plain, sometimes flowery, sometimes technical, sometimes full of jargon and sometimes just plain incomprehensible. Horses for courses is our motto, but that said, for anyone with an interest in the language, the principles underlying Plain English are well worth knowing.
The Plain English Campaign began in 1979 in the UK and Tuesday, 8th December is Plain English Day . This date was chosen because it was on this day that Chrissie Maher, a journalist who had founded a newspaper for people with reading difficulties, publicly shredded thousands of documents outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. Maher founded the campaign to counteract needlessly verbose language, not just by those in government but by anyone producing documents which are supposed to be easily understood by the general public. That said, the Civil Service does have a track record here. Anyone who has tried to make sense of some government documents may understand her frustration! Since the publication of ‘Plain Words’ by Sir Earnest Gowers in 1948 (and its many subsequent updates), many people have tried (often in vain) to render “civil service speak” into something a bit more comprehensible.
The Plain English Campaign annually announces the result of their annual awards for best and worst communications, which usually results in some newspaper mentions and are often quite entertaining. In 2009 there was also a re-enactment of the shredding outside Parliament. The campaign is still ongoing, and the fact that we even now refer to anyone who is particular verbose as a ‘Sir Humphrey’* indicates just how serious the problem remains!
At Global Connects, we know that our clients have varying requirements. If we’re translating ‘expert to expert’ then the use of the appropriate jargon is entirely acceptable, however, if we’re working on something simpler where it’s important to have clarity we always bear in mind the underlying principles of Plain English, adopting them where it’s sensible to do so. This helps produce a clear, straightforward translation, which, after all, is what we’re here to do!
You can read more about the Plain English Campaign and Plain English Day on their website.
Rosetta Stone, Global Connects
* for anyone who is not from the UK, Sir Humphrey Appleby was a character in the TV series ‘Yes Minister’. As Permanent Secretary in the Department for Administrative Affairs, he was famous for his verbosity and enormously convoluted sentences which were (deliberately) designed to frustrate the Minister of State, James Hacker.