In lieu of effective communication

So you’re a member in good standing of the European Community, but you’re increasingly concerned by all the “foreign” words that have been creeping into your language of late, and you feel compelled to do something about it.

And most remarkably of all, you’re not French. British councils are demanding substitutes for phrases of Latin origin:

Local authorities have ordered employees to stop using the words and phrases on documents and when communicating with members of the public and to rely on wordier alternatives instead.

Bournemouth Council … has listed 19 terms it no longer considers acceptable for use. This includes bona fide, eg (exempli gratia), prima facie, ad lib or ad libitum, etc or et cetera, ie or id est, inter alia, NB or nota bene, per, per se, pro rata, quid pro quo, vis-a-vis, vice versa and even via.

In instructions to staff, the council said: “Not everyone knows Latin. Many readers do not have English as their first language so using Latin can be particularly difficult.”

Nor is Bournemouth alone in its urge to purge:

Of other local authorities to prohibit the use of Latin, Salisbury Council has asked staff to avoid the phrases ad hoc, ergo and QED (quod erat demonstrandum), while Fife Council has also banned ad hoc as well as ex officio.

A group called the “Plain English Campaign” is pleased with this development:

Marie Clair, its spokesman, said: “If you look at the diversity of all our communities you have got people for whom English is a second language. They might mistake eg for egg and little things like that can confuse people.

“At the same time it is important to remember that the national literacy level is about 12 years old and the vast majority of people hardly ever use these terms.

“It is far better to use words people understand. Often people in power are using the words because they want to feel self important. It is not right that voters should suffer because of some official’s ego.”

Apparently I was wrong: there is in fact no limit to dumbing down.

And this Englishwoman with the French name needs to ask herself how she’s helping the “national literacy level” with this insistence that “English” doesn’t include all those terms that I’d learned, and likely she’d learned, long before the age of twelve.

There’s also a more direct response I’d like to make, though it may be questioned by councils because of its Anglo-Saxon origins.

(Via Interested-Participant.)


  1. fillyjonk »

    3 November 2008 · 12:03 pm

    “bona fide, eg (exempli gratia), prima facie, ad lib or ad libitum, etc or et cetera, ie or id est, inter alia, NB or nota bene, per, per se, pro rata, quid pro quo, vis-a-vis, vice versa and even via.”

    Oh please. I have NO Latin at all and yet I know every single one of these.

    Oh, and also a priori and a posteriori and ad hoc and probably a number of other ones I can’t think of right now.

    (Then again, as you said, there is a word I know that applies here even though I have NO Anglo-Saxon)

    Seriously, they’re going to make people write out “for example” when they could have used “e.g.,”?

    If having a diverse vocabulary makes one a snob, then I am a proud snob.

  2. Scuffulans hirsutus »

    3 November 2008 · 2:17 pm

    Today’s quote…

    … there is in fact no limit to dumbing down…

  3. unimpressed »

    3 November 2008 · 3:54 pm

    Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity , and I’m not sure about the former. — Albert Einstein

  4. McGehee »

    3 November 2008 · 11:33 pm

    The word I would use for these councils and what they’re trying to do, would be of Greek origin. Initially applied to people who avoided involvement in civic affairs (if I remember correctly), it now seems mostly to apply to those who should seek to avoid involvement in civic affairs, yet do not.

RSS feed for comments on this post