Plainly Speaking…


Each fall the Center for Plain Language in Washington, D.C., grades agencies of the federal government, non-profits and private companies on their efforts to write clearly. Their reports certainly make interesting reading; see the full report card for U.S. government offices here:

Writing in plain language entails many different elements from words and phrases to euphemistic labels and clichés. English is often deliberately made obscure, unclear or overly complex — when the point should simply be to communicate. (But that’s a discussion for another time.)

Let’s begin with a list of some redundant words and phrases, usually labelled pleonasms or pleonastic phrases by linguists — and these labels are themselves perfect candidates for translation to Plain English.

all-time recordrecord
by means ofby
close proximityproximity (or ‘is close’)
controversial issueissue
during the periodduring
for a period offor
in an effort toto
most uniqueunique
past historyhistory
rather uniqueunique
reason whyreason
set forth inin
together withtogether or with (but rarely both)
totally demolishdemolish
totally destroydestroy

The examples above are but one limited category of words that can result in obscure language or just excessive wordiness in writing. Keep checking this blog for some of the other categories.

The Center for Plain Language also publicizes awards annually, winners and losers basically: ClearMark and WonderMark. The name of the second award I dare guess is probably short for I-wonder-what-the-f-they-are-talking-about. You can see the lists of the latest finalists by clicking on the links below:



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