Plain language vs. ploddledygook: the worm turns

"Call the police. Ploddledygook is murdering the English language," went a headline in The Times on 9 May 2013.

Simon de Bruxelles quoted a hefty chunk of impenetrable blah posing as "instructions" for police officers entering Avon & Somerset's annual Problem Solving Awards.

That a British police authority should gush meaningless fluffy managementspeak is no surprise. That's the reality in every sector today, as Don Watson so eloquently explained in a Radio New Zealand interview yesterday.

What's amazing (and wonderful) to me is the indignant response of some of the police officers who tried to read this ploddledygook. (That word will be with us forever.)

They did not say,

"Yes Ma'am, we will Follow the problem-solving mythology as a supportive framework to work the problem through: Understand where the drivers and demand originated; Clearly define and understand what the actual problem was; Articulate our aim as SMART and understand the impact we intended. Sure! Got it!

"And of course we will also ensure our presentations are easy to read. Thank you for reminding us!"

Oh no. For once, the worm turned, the people rebelled. They asked that magical plain language question:

"What do you mean?"

Or to be more precise they said:

  • “Could you translate this pretentious male bovine dropping for me please?”
  • “a load of unlinked and meandering nonsense”
  • “From the very first sentence I had no idea what they were on about.”


As any editor or usability expert knows, the writer is at fault if the intended readers cannot understand a document.

Alas, no such insight struck Claire Stanley, a spokeswoman for Avon & Somerset Constabulary.

She said blithely that the advice was taken out of context and that officers taking part “would know exactly what it meant”.

Call the police: The Times
Radio interview with Don Watson on weasel words and the blight of managementspeak




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