Plain Words
Training Bulletin
issue 29

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Sir Ernest Gowers – The Complete Plain Words

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Training Bulletin Issue 29

First prove you are worthy…

Councils have been in the news lately, accused of using elitist and discriminatory language: Latin words and management jargon have been banned. And, predictably, there was a backlash from journalists who fancy themselves as Latin scholars.

“Latin is a useful litmus test. It separates the civilised, as in past centuries, from the Goths and Vandals,” said the Telegraph.

Jargon is another thing that councils are now discouraged from using. Terms like “re-baselining,” “holistic” and “predictors of beaconicity” have been banned. Like Latin, the problem with these words is that you need specialist knowledge to understand what they mean. With management jargon, the meaning is often arbitrary in any case.

Who reads all this stuff anyway?

Well, it’s supposed to be written for the likes of you and me. The last time I personally read something from my council was to find out about a neighbour’s planning application. I needed specific information and luckily, I did not need to translate what I found from Latin. I did, however, need to fight my way through some rather obscure architectural jargon.

Writing for the public needs to be functional

If you have a problem relating to the place where you live, taxes or entitlements, you want a clear, concise answer to your questions. You don’t want to jump through hoops to prove that you belong to some sort of pre-defined elite, familiar with old languages, current jargon or specialist disciplines. And why should you have to do this?

Anyone producing documents for public consumption – or in fact any kind of business document – needs to realise that they are using language in a functional way, to convey information. They are not using it to demonstrate their own knowledge or to test or impress the reader. There are other ways to do this—join Mensa or write a novel. Don’t try to do it with your business writing.

Latin is a dead language, dead as it can be…
Latin killed the ancient Romans, now it’s killing me.

Here are some common Latin abbreviations, what they are short for and their English equivalents. Ask yourself if you would actually use the words in the middle column in your writing. If not, why use the abbreviations for them when there is a perfectly acceptable English equivalent?

et al.
Exempli gratia
Id est
Et cetera
Et alii
for example
that is
which means
and so forth
and other people
in the same place

Would your reader know this?

Avoiding Latin is only part of writing clearly. Think carefully about who your readers are and choose words that you can reasonably expect them to know. Think about the kind of writing you are producing and what it needs to achieve. We train delegates to plan their documents with their readers and objectives in mind and to adapt their writing style to their purpose. Some courses that may help:

If you need to write this

Consider this course

Promotional or marketing materialCopywriting Essentials
Technical documentsDesigning and Writing Technical Documents
EmailsEmail Masterclass
ReportsStructuring and Writing Reports or
Business and Report Writing for Managers
General business writingEffective Business Writing

Editor recommends

The Complete Plain Words, by Sir Ernest Gowers

Sir Ernest was a civil servant, who wrote a guide aimed at simplifying the overly bureaucratic use of written English by HM Government. It has remained in print continuously for half a century and remains one of the best guides to good written English. It is also the inspiration for our company name.

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We also offer private courses at your premises. We offer a 10% discount for not-for-profit organisations and a sliding scale of discounts for multiple bookings. Please call 01235 60 30 22 for details.

How to book

To book, call Julia on 01235 60 30 22 ext 28, or use the booking form.

Kind Regards
The Plain Words Training Team

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