The Plain English Campaign’s annual awards were announced today, and are once again rubbish. This year’s ‘Foot in Mouth’ winner is Steve McLaren, who said:
He [Wayne Rooney] is inexperienced, but he’s experienced in terms of what he’s been through.
It’s badly-phrased, sure, but did anybody really take more than half a second to understand what he meant? After thinking for ten seconds or so I reckon he could have said ‘Wayne Rooney has lots of experience in some specific areas, but little in others’. Which still isn’t great, and I had plenty of time to ponder. There’s no context to the McLaren quote, but I’m going to guess it was part of an interview and he had maybe a second to articulate a not particularly simple thought-shape. Everybody starts sentences and realises halfway through that they could be better phrased; if your skills are in, say, managing football teams rather than speaking publicly then it’s fairly likely you’ll make mistakes. Calling him out on it is just silly, especially given the competition.
The PEC give plenty of awards to organisations they consider exemplary, and that’s a good thing (even if they do think The Sun is the clearest national newspaper). I applaud their efforts to improve the standard of dialogue, and I’m sure they’ve done a lot of good work. But their ‘Foot in Mouth’ and ‘Golden Bull’ winners get plenty of press attention, and it’s wasted. The latter award has a couple of reasonable winners – ‘passenger shoe repatriation area only’ made me laugh – but also includes minutes from a Warwickshire council meeting that probably make sense if you know the background, a railway sign that uses ‘low adhesion between the rail head and the wheel’ to explain why leaves slow down trains, and legalese from a Courier’s terms and conditions that is awful because it’s legalese and has to be unambiguous.
If this is the best they can come up with I’d say the country is in pretty good shape, language-wise. But it clearly isn’t: there’s plenty of misleading and plain insidious dialogue in politics – the ridiculous ways in which politicians of all parties refer to people trying to move to the UK, for example – and with all the media attention paid to these awards the PEC could make some strong points if they wanted. Rubbish.