WASHINGTON – The federal government is rolling out a new official language of sorts: plain English.
That’s right: Pursuant to regulations promulgated thereunder and commencing in accordance with a statute signed herein by President Barack Obama, the government shall be precluded from writing the pompous gibberish heretofore evidenced, to the extent practicable.
That sentence contains 11 new language no-nos.
Obama signed the Plain Writing Act last fall after decades of effort by a cadre of passionate grammarians in the civil service to jettison the jargon.
It takes full effect in October, when federal agencies must start writing plainly in all new or substantially revised documents produced for the public. The government will still be allowed to write nonsensically to itself.
Ahead then, if the law works, is a culture change for an enterprise that turns out reams of confusing benefit forms, tangled rules and foggy pronouncements. Not to mention a Pentagon brownie recipe that went on for 26 pages about “regulations promulgated thereunder,” “flow rates of thermoplastics by extrusion plastometer” and a commandment that ingredients “shall be examined organoleptically.”
That means look at, smell, touch or taste.
By July, each agency must have a senior official overseeing plain writing, a section of its website devoted to the effort and employee training under way.
“It is important to emphasize that agencies should communicate with the public in a way that is clear, simple, meaningful and jargon-free,” says Cass Sunstein, a White House information and regulation administrator who gave guidance to federal agencies in April on how to implement the law.
Bad writing by the government, he says, discourages people from applying for benefits they should get, makes federal rules hard to follow and wastes money because of all the time spent fixing mistakes and explaining things to a baffled populace.
But can clarity and good grammar be legislated?
Federal plain language guidelines: http://www.plainlanguage.gov/howto/guidelines/bigdoc/fullbigdoc.pdf
Center for Plain Language: http://centerforplainlanguage.org