In his famous 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language, George Orwell argues that the declining standards of spoken and written English are leading the general population to lose the capacity for critical thinking. The feedback loop of dumbed-down language leads to less precise thoughts, he argued, comparing the erosion of language to a man’s descent into alcoholism.
“A man may drink because he considers himself to be a failure, then fail all the more because he drinks,” wrote Mr. Orwell.
Since the 1970s, a global Plain Language movement has taken root to oppose that trend. This weekend, cities across Canada will declare war on legalese and other enemies of English by holding events to celebrate International Plain Language day on Sunday, October 13th.
Chances are any insurance policy or cell phone contract you’ve ever tried to read has been unintelligible. Members of the media struggle through press releases that read like dispatches from the far-flung frontiers of the English
language, where the government never spends money but only “invests in the future”; things that work well together are “synergistic”; and nothing happens now, only “at this time.”
Euphemisms in language are not new, but as we settle into the Information Age, it’s more important than ever to demand plain language — even if politically correct mumbo jumbo sometimes makes the truth a little easier to deal with.
Let’s take former Canucks player and part-time Invermere resident Mason Raymond as an example. Mr. Raymond could not land a job in the NHL over the summer. He had “varying contract offers from multiple teams,” said his agent. A lawyer might have described the situation as “a failure to reach a mutually-beneficial agreement or transaction between a sports ownership group and an individual contractor offering athletic services and various specified and unspecified obligations to the ownership group.”
Mr. Raymond eventually landed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and is off to a fantastic start with his new team: at press deadline, his two goals and two assists in three games mean he’s tied for the team lead in points and eighth overall in the NHL.
Here’s hoping the Plain Language movement can match his early success.