In its latest act in defense of the language, today the Plain English Campaign went on the offensive against government signs and other warnings that do no more than state the obvious. Saying that the statements are unnecessary and "assume a lack of intelligence on the part of the reader," the PEC called on the police, government agencies, and private organizations to stop.
Their primary example: a sign posted by police in Hertfordshire telling citizens: "Don’t Commit Crime." Other unnecessary government signs included "Warning: Platform Ends Here" and "Caution: Water on Road During Rain."
Obvious and (hopefully) unnecessary product warnings are also featured:
- A packet of nuts labeled "Warning: contains nuts";
- A can of pepper spray labeled "May irritate eyes";
- An airplane’s emergency-exit door labeled "Do not open door while airborne except in emergency"; and
- A bike manual with the important warning, "Removing the wheel can influence the performance of the bicycle." Dramatically, in fact.
The PEC also called on politicians to eliminate statements like "We are committed to improving the health service" and "We are taking the terrorist threat very seriously," which do not communicate useful information. "Our advice," said a spokesman, "would be say what you need to plainly and simply then stop. If nothing needs to be said, say nothing."
The Plain English Campaign is a great organization that has been around since 1979 and is very active in defense of the language. The PEC publicizes good writing as well as bad, awarding its "Crystal Mark" to documents it has certified for clarity. Organizations as a whole can also qualify. I scanned the list, and while the UK Law Society itself (similar to U.S. bar organizations) had received the Mark, I saw few if any law firms on the list. Something to strive for.
Go forth, write plainly, and don’t commit crime.