EirGrid powers past jargon at Plain English Awards

The event celebrates firms which use simple language when dealing with the public

Mason Hayes & Curran managing partner Declan Black, EirGrid director of external affairs Rosemary Steen and National Adult Literacy Agency chief executive Inez Bailey at the Plain English Awards in Dublin. Photograph: Shane O’Neill Photography.

Mason Hayes & Curran managing partner Declan Black, EirGrid director of external affairs Rosemary Steen and National Adult Literacy Agency chief executive Inez Bailey at the Plain English Awards in Dublin. Photograph: Shane O’Neill Photography.

 

If you’re going into work this morning with the intention of deploying resources to progress an agenda which is key and needs tackling, then stop it right now.

The people behind the Plain English Awards have you in their sights.

The annual awards, which were presented on Thursday in the Law Society headquarters in Blackhall Place – a building which has seen its fair share of gobbledygook over the years – are run by the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA).

Working as it does with people who struggle with obscure and intimidating jargon, the agency is keen to encourage companies and services to employ clear, simple language when dealing with the public.

This year’s winners ranged from Down Syndrome Ireland to the Office of the Director for Public Prosecutions.

Declan Black of business law firm Mason Hayes & Curran, which sponsors the awards, said the relationship had the added benefit of forcing his company to simplify its language.

“It puts internal pressure on us to do better because otherwise we will be lampooned,” he said.

Words such as “aforementioned” and “heretofore” cropped up less frequently now in word searches of the company’s files, he said. “Thank God they’ve been reduced.”

NALA regularly publishes booklets on best usage of English in different walks of life.

The most recent, Plain English and the Law, features an admirably concise foreword by the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, who observes that “too many contracts are written in obscure and convoluted language.

In many instances that is because of an overreliance upon precedents. In addition, the word processor is very often no friend of plain English.”

From academia to computing, every profession has its own impenetrable jargon, designed seemingly to exclude rather than communicate.

The Plain English Awards have a particular focus on companies that provide important information to the public, whether it’s monitoring our health, managing our finances or just understanding our own rights.

This year’s overall winner, EirGrid, was praised for the clarity of a document explaining how electricity customers can have their say in how the company consults with the public on developing the national grid.

Given the current controversy over its North-South interconnector, though, plain English may not always be enough.

The same might be said of Donald Trump, who has been both scorned and praised for using a limited vocabulary that appealed to many voters.

Is Mr Trump an example of Plain English at work?

“He’s an exponent of plain language, but not of clarity or accuracy,” says Mr Black.

“He uses plain language to create bogeymen, to confuse and to divide.” Not a candidate for next year’s awards, then.

(From Plain English and the Law)

A standard hire purchase contract term before and after being edited in plain English

Before:

Title to property in the goods shall remain vested in the Company (notwithstanding the delivery of the same to the Customer) until the price of the Goods comprised in the contract and all other money due from the Customer to the Company on any other account has been paid in full.

After:

We will own the goods until you have finished paying for them.

Jargon:

• Slimming down (processes don’t diet)

• Foster (unless it is children)

• Agenda (unless it is for a meeting)

• Commit/pledge (we’re either doing something or we’re not)

• Deliver (pizzas, post and services are delivered – not abstract concepts like ‘improvements’ or ‘priorities’)

• Deploy (unless it is military or software)

• Dialogue (we speak to people)

• Key (unless it unlocks something. A subject/thing isn’t ‘key’ – it’s probably ‘important’)

• Progress (as a verb – what are you actually doing?)

• Promote (unless you are talking about an ad campaign or some other marketing promotion)

• Strengthening (unless it’s strengthening bridges or other structures)

• Tackling (unless it is rugby, football or some other sport)

• Transforming (what are you actually doing to change it?)

• Going forward (unlikely we are giving travel directions)