Plainly speaking…

Could you please repeat that -- in plain English?
Could you please repeat that — in plain English?

Each fall the Center for Plain Language in Washington, D.C., grades agencies of the federal government, non-profits and private companies on their efforts to write clearly. Their reports certainly make interesting reading; see the full report card for U.S. government offices here:

Writing in plain language entails many different elements from words and phrases to euphemistic labels and clichés. English is often deliberately made obscure, unclear or overly complex — when the point should simply be to communicate. (But that’s a discussion for another time.)

Let’s begin with a list of some redundant words and phrases, usually labelled pleonasms or pleonastic phrases by linguists — and these labels are themselves perfect candidates for translation to Plain English.

all-time record  record
by means of  by
close proximity  proximity (or ‘is close’)
controversial issue issue 
during the period  during
firstly  first
for a period of   for
herein   here
herewith  here
in an effort to  to
most unique  unique
past history  history 
rather unique  unique
reason why   reason 
set forth in  in
together with  together or with (but rarely both)
totally demolish  demolish
totally destroy destroy

The examples above are but one limited category of words that can result in obscure language or just excessive wordiness in writing. Keep checking this blog for some of the other categories.

The Center for Plain Language also publicizes awards annually, winners and losers basically: ClearMark and WonderMark. The name of the second award I dare guess is probably short for I-wonder-what-the-f-they-are-talking-about. You can see the lists of the latest finalists by clicking on the links below::



If you would like to read more about the center and its activities, visit their website here. In summary, it’s plain that we should keep our language clear and not leave our readers to wonder what we mean.