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About A Week: Watch Your Language

Peter Hinchliffe deplores the misuse of his native language.

One in three of the world’s population use English as a mother tongue.

English is the official language or is widely used in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, India, United Arab Emirates, Canada, the United States, Panama, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and several other countries.

But in the land which gave birth to the language, some abuse the it to such an extent that their meaning is hidden rather than conveyed.

Notorious language abusers in England are Government officials, local and national. The forms and letters which they send out sometimes seem to have been written deliberately to confuse. Adverts for government jobs leave many scratching their heads as they try understand what work is on offer.

Here’s an advert placed this week in an English national newspaper by Leicestershire County Council.

“In this new role, you will lead the development and implementation of robust inter-agency strategic planning processes with the aim of delivering better outcomes for children and young people. As well as working with commissioners, providers and other agencies to optimise partnership working, you will liaise closely with the Head of Knowledge Management to develop and maintain a comprehensive and up-to-date analysis of current needs and services.’’

The council wants a Head of Planning and Commissioning – Children’s Services, and is prepared to pay up to £59,000 (almost $115,000) for the right person.

Presumably the successful candidate must also have the knack of writing gobbledygook.

Ironically the ad appeared this week in The Guardian newspaper, which in 2006 won an award for successfully and passionately combating gobbledygook.

The Plain English Campaign gave the paper the award for the second year running for continuing to set the standard for national newspaper journalism. “On the whole, the language used is clear and accessible,’’ said the judges.

Chrissie Maher, a doughty advocate for the use of simple, direct language, launched the Plain English Campaign in 1979 by shredding hundreds of confusing government forms in Parliament Square, London.

Chrissie, born in 1938, could not read until she was in her mid-teens. She was heavily involved in community work during the 1960s and founded Britain's first community newspaper, 'The Tuebrook Bugle'. In the 1970s she set up 'The Liverpool News', the country's first newspaper for semi-literate adults, and Impact Foundation, a community printshop.

When the National Consumer Council was created in 1975 she was invited to become a member. While serving on the Council she started the Salford Form Market - a service to help people fill in unnecessarily complicated forms. The Salford project led on to the Plain English Campaign.

Besides giving annual awards to those who use the English language clearly and vigorously, the Campaign also gives Golden Bull awards, intending to embarrass those who mangle and misuse the language of Shakespeare and Dickens.
Here are some of last year’s Golden Bull “winners:

Crafts Council of Ireland for a circular letter -
'The re-writing of the vocabulary of intemporal Irish heritage is a possible vector for submissions on the condition that this transposition is resolutely anchored in the 21st century through a contemporary lens that absolutely avoids drifting into the vernacular.'


Wheale, Thomas, Hodgins plc for a job advertisement -
'Our client is a pan-European start-up leveraging current cutting edge I.P. (already specified) with an outstanding product/value solutions set. It is literally the right product, in the right place at the right time… by linking high-value disparate legacy systems to achieve connectivity between strategic partners/acquisition targets and/or disparate corporate divisions. The opportunity exists to be the same (i.e. right person etc. etc) in a growth-opportunity funded by private equity capital that hits the 'sweet-spot' in major cost driven European markets.


Luton Education Authority, as reported in the Daily Telegraph on 9 March -
'Excluded kids were being given go-karting lessons. The authority claimed the scheme was 'a multi-agency project catering for holistic diversionary provision to young people for positive action linked to the community safety strategy and the pupil referral unit'.'


In 2004 the Campaign asked its supporters world-wide which clichés annoyed them the most.

Top of the list was “At the end of the day.’’

Second was “At this moment in time.’’

The use of the word “like’’ as if it were a form of punctuation came third. “With all due respect’’ was fourth.

The use of the following words or phrases also arouses irritation.

address the issue
ballpark figure
basis ('on a weekly basis' in place of 'every week' 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 goalposts
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
value-added (in general use)
back to top

I am sure OhmyNews readers could add their own pet hates to that list.

At the top of my list is the word “actually’’. British Cabinet Ministers frequently use it when being interviewed. It’s as though the addition of the word “actually’’ guarantees that what they say will be believed.

“Actually’’ creeps into many of the interviews with people from all walks of life on the BBC Radio’s prestigious breakfast-time programme, Today.

One woman interviewee used “actually’’ six times in a two-minute interview.

Which, actually, is too much of a bad thing.


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