Cutting out the jargon

23 Aug

A few weeks ago, it was reported that the UK government had circulated a style guide to civil servants to encourage them to use plain English rather than obscure jargon. Good (although one wonders how much it cost to compile when each person could simply have been given a copy of The Economist Style Guide).

I was particularly amused to find a report on Mail Online (and no, I wouldn’t normally read the Mail even if there were no other newspaper available). Does the Mail “do” irony and was it being ironic in its use of poor English? Surely it must have been.

The introduction to the Mail’s piece refers to:

•  “what the Government are doing”, although the first paragraph of the piece refers, correctly, to “what the  Government is doing”;

•  the “government’s new one-stop-shop website”, though a caption under a picture of the site reads, “Not a ‘one stop shop: The online style guide is published on the government website which has replaced those for individual departments, so all the information the public need is in one place.” No hyphens in this use of one-stop shop, a capital letter incorrectly used after a colon, “which” used instead of “that”, and “the public” assumed to be a plural when, of course, it’s a singular; and

•  (this has to be a joke) “Guidance should facilitate the delivery of better dialogue with stakeholders”.

Back to the guide
On the whole, it’s a positive step, even though I don’t agree with everything in it. The list of “forbidden” words is good: for example, “key (unless it unlocks something. A subject/thing isn’t ‘key’ – it’s probably ‘important’ ”; as is the instruction to “avoid metaphors”, such as “going forward (unlikely we are giving travel directions)”.

The writer doesn’t, however, seem to understand the difference between an abbreviation and an acronym. An acronym is a word formed from initials – such as Unesco and Nato, but UN, UK, HMRC, etc, are abbreviations.

Nor do I like his/her use of numerals for numbers under ten: “There are three main reasons…” looks and reads better than, “There are 3 main reasons…”. In my view, the best way to express numbers is to spell them out up to, and including, ten but to use figures from 11 on. (The principal exception is percentages, which should always be in figures.) I think the guide is particularly inconsistent over ordinal numbers: “Spell out first to ninth”, it says, but if 1 to 9 must be in figures, that is simply illogical.

The guide is, however, a good thing, despite my nitpicking. One of the metaphors its readers are told to avoid is, “drive (you can only drive vehicles; not schemes or people)”. Perhaps the message hadn’t quite filtered down to the spokesman at the DfES: The Telegraph online reported, “Last night, the DfES defended the guide, insisting it was part of a drive to maintain standards within the department”. We can but live in hope.

Today’s picture
There have been a lot of Cabbage White butterflies in the garden this year and they love this plant (no, as ever, I have no idea what it’s called!)



One Response to “Cutting out the jargon”


  1. Cutting out the jargon | alswordsnpictures - August 23, 2013

    […] Cutting out the jargon. […]

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