Saturday, October 13, 2012

October 13: International Plain Language Day

We've got a new obscure holiday for you to celebrate... today is the second ever celebration of International Plain Language Day!

What's plain language, you ask? To put it plainly, it's straightforward language that only uses necessary words. No technical jargon or endless sentences. Plain language gets the communication job done without any frills or nonsense that might confuse people.

There are entire organizations worldwide dedicated to the Plain Language Movement. Their main goal is to get rid of the unnecessary complexities in language used in public sectors such as business, law, government, and academia. Nearly everyone has been in a situation where they had difficulty understanding important paperwork... perhaps with tax forms or rental contracts. Even better, think of the annoying terms and conditions you have to accept in order to do just about anything technology-related nowadays. You know, the ones you never ever read... you're just focused on the song you want to download and check the box. For all you know, you might have just agreed to give your first-born child to Apple.

What an adorable face... too bad you didn't
read those endless terms and conditions.
If they'd been in plain language, you wouldn't have
unknowingly surrendered your baby to a corporation!

So why October 13th? Exactly two years ago, the Plain Writing Act of 2010 was signed into law by President Obama. It's a U.S. federal law that requires government agencies to use plain writing in all their documents, especially when giving information about public services. It's quite brilliant, really... plain language helps make things easily understandable to everyone, which is especially important in government since its function is to serve the people (or so they say...). We're as shocked as you are that the U.S. government has finally gotten something right!

Some might argue that the complexities of language are what makes it interesting, and that plain writing could take the fun out of it. However, we don't think that the Plain Language Movement is any threat to all the wonderful, exotic, and sometimes confusing intricacies of language. They're not suggesting that we require plain language in literature, science or education, for example. They just want to level the playing field so that as many people as possible can understand important documents. Everyone should be able to understand government documents, not just highly educated lawyers who are trained to decode (and create) endless pages of technical jargon!

If you want to try some plain writing out today, just remember KISS... keep it simple stupid!

Plain language: "Polly want a cracker?"
Overly complex language: " Does Polly have a hankering to
ingest a flat, crisp baked good made from flour dough?" 

Happy International Plain Language Day!