The Plain English Campaign is a British organisation striving for public information to be written in straightforward language. Its 2002 awards ceremony was held on 4 December 2002. Several bodies — government, commercial and charitable — were praised for the quality of their recent publications. The judges noted an improvement in the writing of internal government documents. “If civil servants can communicate so clearly with each other, there must be hope for those who write documents for the public,” they said.
But as so often, it was the awards for gobbledegook that got the attention of the press. The movie star Richard Gere won this year’s Foot in Mouth award for incomprehensible sentences. Interviewed over rumours about his sexual orientation, he said: “You have to start to really look at yourself. I know who I am. No one else knows who I am. Does it change the fact of who I am what anyone says about it? If I was a giraffe, and someone said I was a snake, I’d think, no, actually I’m a giraffe. Those kind of things hurt people round you more than they hurt you, because they hurt for you”. I dispute the PEC’s view that this is incomprehensible: it sounds odd, could certainly be better phrased and the last bit has to be read twice to be understood, but it does make sense, more so than the speech of some other public figures I could mention.
Golden Bull awards were presented to a number of organisations that succeeded in generating baffling statements, such as this one from the British electronics company Marconi: “The benefit of having dedicated subject matter experts who are able to evangelise the attributes and business imperatives of their products is starting to bear fruit” (I’m told by my copyeditor, who has worked in public-relations, that this also makes perfect sense if you know business-speak). And this letter to a customer from the Halifax General Insurance Services Ltd gained an award: “I can confirm that you have not inform us a conservatory that has never been built and that you have not been charged any extra for one built”.
The Golden Bull award that newspapers seized on with glee appears on the Web site of a design firm named Anadrom Ltd. A statement on the site is reproduced by the Campaign:
Please browse the site to see our full range of services, we can remain customer focused and goal-directed, innovate and be an inside-out organization which facilitates sticky web-readiness transforming turnkey eyeballs to brand 24/365 paradigms with benchmark turnkey channels implementing viral e-services and dot-com action-items while we take that action item off-line and raise a red flag and remember touch base as you think about the red tape outside of the box and seize B2B e-tailers and re-envisioneer innovative partnerships that evolve dot-com initiatives delivering synergistic earballs to incentivize.
Hang on one minute. Earballs? Re-envisioneer? Sticky web-readiness? That doesn’t sound like anything that’s intended to be taken seriously. On checking, the site contains one page, with no further information, no links, and no contact details. It’s obviously a placeholder for future development, and the text is tongue-in-cheek inventive rubbish to fill a space into which the page designer intends later to insert real content (it’s similar to the cod-Latin text used by print designers for the same purpose).
A search online finds the same text in several other places and it turns out that it is generated by an extension to the Macromedia Dreamweaver Web design programme called “Corporate Mumbo Jumbo”. It would seem the Plain English Campaign has made itself look a bit silly by taking it seriously.