A plain English lexicon kind to public servants

Plain English Lexicon
The invaluable Plain English Lexicon analyses 1200 words that occur frequently in British public-information documents. Which words will lay people understand? It's not as simple as choosing 1-syllable words over 3-syllable words every time.

The lexicon draws on research evidence in the US ‘Living Word Vocabulary’ and the British National Corpus of 100m words. Each word has a plainer alternative, and many have a recommendation for use. A few examples below will give you the flavour. As you'll see, the lexicon is realistic and practical, and entirely non-pedantic. It's kind to the poor public servant caught between a rock (bureaucratic jargon, some of which is useful) and a hard place (a too-rigid interpretation of plain English).

    Accrue / be added to, gather / This is a hard word, and a hard word to replace without loss of meaning.
    acquaint (yourself with) / make familiar, find out about, read / ‘Please acquaint yourself with the details’ is not obscure but pompous: ‘please read...’.
    authority (local gov’t) / council, local council / For brevity, ‘local council’ is preferable to ‘local authority’, and ‘council’ stands better on its
    own than ‘authority’.
    axiomatic / self-evident
    chronic (illness) / lasting a long time / The difference between ‘chronic’ and ‘acute’ is often lost on patients.

Martin Cutts of the UK Plain Language Commission prepared this valuable resource.

Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine


1 Comment

Courtney Johnston
Courtney Johnston

June 19, 2008

Thanks heaps Rachel – that’s really handy.

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