Plain (English) Language

[Originally posted 1/15/2009 in the previous version of my blog–sfj]

Every editor and style guide I’ve ever worked with has warned me to avoid using Latinates (such as “e.g.”) in technical writing. Several reasons are given, including that today’s readers may well not know what they mean. Better is plain-spoken English, in which an equivalent team can always be found. I didn’t bemoan the general decline of literacy; I just did as I was instructed. I can’t say I’ve ever regretted doing so.

I was interested to see this recent article on the BBC News Web site about British town councils making the same decision:

A number of local councils in Britain have banned their staff from using Latin words, because they say they might confuse people.

Several local authorities have ruled that phrases like “vice versa”, “pro rata”, and even “via” should not be used, in speech or in writing.

But the ban has prompted anger among some Latin scholars.

Professor Mary Beard of Cambridge University said it was the linguistic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.

Some local councils say using Latin is elitist and discriminatory, because some people might not understand it – particularly if English is not their first language.

Bournemouth Council is among those which have discouraged Latin. It has drawn up a list of 18 Latin phrases which its staff are advised not to use, either verbally or in official correspondence.

That sounds reasonable to me, and it doesn’t hinder my technical writing style. By the way, for more information about the Plain English Campaign, click here.

Published by Steven Jong

I am a lifelong technical communicator, a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication (STC), a former STC board member, and chair of the first STC Certification Commission. I occasionally blog about these and other topics.

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