Friday, May 20, 2011

They Said WHAT???

Yesterday, while I was at work struggling to craft a document that would be agreeable to three different, opinionated, and eternally-squabbling organizations, I received an e-mail from my daughter with a link to this wonderfully optimistic article: Feds Must Stop Writing Gibberish Under New Law.

Yes, Dear Readers, according to the Plain Writing Act of 2010 (a mere three pages!) and the Federal Plain Language Guidelines (all 117 pages of them) which offer helpful information on how Federal agencies can implement it, you should actually be able to understand the laws, regulations, and other information issued by your government.

What a concept!

For those of you who have struggled for years to learn Old Church Slavonic, the official language of the Federal Government, this will be welcome news. It should also be of great interest not only to teachers of English such as Kathy and Melissa, but to everyone who desperately yearns to know just what the hell those instructions on your Form 1040 - or the Federal standards for almost anything - actually mean.

A long time ago I had a heated, yet friendly discussion about legal gobbledygook with a friend who is a lawyer. He strongly objected to the negative image of tortured legalese because, in his opinion, such language was important for its precision and legal clarity - because every letter of every word had been endlessly litigated over many years until its meaning was crystal clear.

At least to lawyers, as we saw in the famous parsing of the definition of the word "is" by former President Clinton. As George Will once commented, "Creative semantics is the key to contemporary government; it consists of talking in strange tongues lest the public learn the inevitable inconveniently early."

So check out the Center for Plain Language and encourage your elected reprehensives (and their appointed officials) to use the Language of Real People instead of strange tongues.

There's no telling what we might learn if we could actually understand the arcane language of government.

Have a good day. Cartoon Saturday is coming! More thoughts then.



Anonymous said...

Attention English teachers... I would be happy to see my comtemporaries learn the difference between there, their, and they're, and that everything in life should not be described as "effing" this and "effing" the other. Your greatest effort will no doubt be to wean your African-American students away from the use of "muthaeffing."

Additionally, perhaps you could also teach some basic English conversation? Coming from a liberal, educated family and having attended an all-boys private school I feel that I speak and converse very well. Our dinner tables were full of conversation that was as entertaining as it was stimulating. I got to college last fall and was amazed at the basic level of English with which most students were conversing.

Is this "ghetto-speak" trend yet another example of the lowest common denominator?

God, am I really turning into a WASP? Great-grandad always told me I was an odd mixture of Jeffersonian democracy and National Socialism.

A bit off-topic, but where did you find the image of the scribe? I've been looking for a design for a personal bookplate and this picture might be a starting point.

Bilbo said...

Banister - great comment, thanks! As for the image of the scribe, I just Googled "scribe," selected "Images," and picked the one that was the best combination of size and detail for what I wanted. If you like, I can e-mail you the file. B.

Raquel's World said...

Good point.
Glad to know I'm not the only one who doesn't understand that language.

Chrissy said...

Oh goodness....timing is everything isn't it?

I was just attacked (well my blog was) via twitter. Evidently I "split the infinitive" too much. Which, I don't mind my commenter (via twitter) pointing out... but she threw in an "english must be your second language" comment too. And now she's on some campaign to trash me to other bloggers (mostly mom bloggers). Nice huh?
Guess I should second guess my "it's my blog and i'll make it conversational toned if i want to" thoughts huh?

Bilbo said...

Raquel - we're all in this together!

Chrissy - ignore the twitterer (or "twit" for short). My posts may not always be 100% strictly grammatical, but I try to keep the spelling correct and not to make (note the non-split infinitive!) any overly egregious grammar mistakes. I'm hardly the smartest guy in the room, but I may as well try to sound like I am, eh? Bottom line: be conversational ... of course it's your blog!

Mike said...

The simpler government language is the more arguments there will be over what 'is' means. This could bring goverment to a halt..... HEY!!!!!