Here’s the problem with the Plain English Brigade

Here’s the problem with the Plain English Brigade

There’s an army of Plain-​English-​o-​philes out there, and they’re after your beautifully expansive language.

They don’t realise it, of course.

They’ve been bamboozled by Big Tech into the idea that Simple is Doubleplusgood.

And they do it without deep consideration of how or why they brandish their word-clippers.

Take this comment for example:

Leases, contracts and legal forms are riddled with the word shall. Sure, lawyers love it but isn’t it time we moved on from 1947? How about must, may, will, or should?”

That was from a plain English consultant whom I do actually respect.

The problem he can’t see, though, is that each of these words has a subtle meaning. That meaning is important!

The word ‘shall’ means obliged, but the obligation is in the sense of someone being owed something.

Must’ confers obligation too, but in the sense of someone being impelled by someone else.

May’ isn’t about obligation at all. Instead, it is ‘am able’, in the sense that someone has the power to do something.

Will’ is about choice, not obligation. In fact the word itself is a root of the word willing!

And as for ‘should’, well, it’s the closest of them all, though it’s the past tense of shall. And you can’t write a contract or lease in past tense.

Plain English isn’t a tool for removing old, uncommon, or worn out terms from the language. It is a tool for enabling clarity

If the Plain English Brigade were smart, they would advocate:

  1. Clarity at all costs, which may mean explaining why some terms are used. There’s no shame in explanations, but there is a lot of power.
  2. Writing for the audience, rather than simplifying for the sake of it.

The ongoing battle for the intellect isn’t served by mindless, zombie-​like simplification. You must have a reason for it. If your audience is tertiary educated, then be concise but don’t simplify just because. Simplify because the act of simplifying aids clarity and understanding.

If your audience is not well educated or literate, you can still use uncommon terms. You’ve just got to be creative. Hell, you might even increase the vocabulary of someone else! What a shock!

Here’s why I’m telling you this:

When you engage a person to help you with your public facing material, at least get someone who understands the significance and deep meaning of words.

Otherwise, you’ll end up doing something dumb, like writing a contract in past tense.

Leticia “words are spells” Mooney

PS. Want to work 1:1 with me? Open a discovery session at https://​ZipMesage​.com/​l​e​t​i​c​i​a​mooney

Leticia Mooney

The Brutal Pixie is Leticia Mooney. Race: Eladrin, Class: Publisher. --- Leticia is Australia's foremost authority on publishing in a business context. She ghostwrites for, and advises, entrepreneurial individuals in the professional services.

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