An Irishman's Diary


To paraphrase the formidable Lady Bracknell, winning one unwelcome award may be regarded as a misfortune; winning two looks like carelessness.

The Plain English Campaign's Foot in Mouth Award for the most baffling comment of 2005 has gone to the Rt Hon Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister of the Welsh Assembly.

Speaking in a debate on policing he advised fellow members: "The only thing which isn't up for grabs is no change and I think it's fair to say it's all to play for, except for no change."

Mr Morgan is the only person to win the annual award twice. In 1998 he received it for an interview on the BBC's Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman. Asked if he would like to become Labour leader in the (then) new Welsh Assembly he replied: "Does a one-legged duck swim in circles?" A perplexed Paxman asked if that was the Welsh for "Yes".

Mr Morgan has accepted his double discomfiture with equanimity, saying it proves that some people actually tune in to the broadcast proceedings of the assembly. There was no point in calling for a recount. The First Minster attracted three entries on the shortlist of five.

No fewer than eight Golden Bull awards were made by the Campaign this year for the best (or should it be the worst?) examples of gobbledygook in public documents. Top of the list was the Australian Taxations Office for its goods and services regulations: "For the purpose of making a declaration under this Subdivision the Commissioner may: (a) treat a particular event that actually happened as not having happened; and (b) treat a particular event that did not actually happen as having happened and, if appropriate, treat the event as (i) having happened at a particular time; and (ii) having involved particular action by a particular entity; and (c) treat a particular event that actually happened as (i) having happened at a time different from the time it actually happened; or (ii) having involved particular action by a particular entity (whether or not the event actually involved any action by that entity)."

Also high among the practitioners of baffling jargon qualifying for a Golden Bull was the British Department of Culture, Media and Sport for this announcement: "Food or drink supplied on or from any premises is 'hot' for the purposes of this Schedule (of the Licensing Act) if the food or drink, or any part of it (a) before it is supplied is heated on the premises or elsewhere for the purpose of enabling it to be consumed at a temperature above the ambient air temperature and, at the time of supply, is above that temperature or (b) after it is supplied may be heated on the premises for the purpose of enabling it to be consumed at a temperature above the ambient air temperature."

And, of course, no Year of the Golden Bull would be complete without a trophy going to the communications industry for non-communication. UK2Net sent this e-mail to a customer: "Your e-mail did not reach a humanoid. It only reached replicant level 1. E-mails arriving from here are spooled for automatic checking and will not be read by humanoids."

On the positive side the Plain English Campaign also gives awards for fluent use of the language by governments, private institutions, local authorities and the media. This year, for the first time, there was an Irish winner in the media section.

Today with Pat Kenny on RTE Radio 1 received the award for Best National Radio Programme. Last year's winner was the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. For the media awards the judges consider how well the nominees have used plain English and how successfully and passionately they have fought gobbledygook.

The Campaign's citation for Today with Pat Kenny says: "The programme provides excellent topical discussion, with guest interviews mixed with a selection of diverse music. Pat Kenny combines intelligence with a light-hearted tone and the show is presented in a clear and concise manner. He and his production team clearly have a deep understanding of their audience. The programme also appears to pride itself on not talking gobbledygook, which is always an excellent standpoint in our eyes."

The Best National Newspaper was deemed to be the Guardian and the award for Best National Television Programme went to the BBC's Sunday AM.

The Plain English Campaign is based in Derbyshire. It does not accept grants or donations. But it is already accepting nominations, good and bad, for its 2006 awards. Entries may be sent to the Plain English Campaign, PO Box 3, New Mills, High Peak, SK22 4QP.