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It’s better kept simple

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Official jargon is impenetrable, seems to be the verdict. SNIGDHA POONAM says it’s high time we stepped down and made language practical

The hours of non-hours work worked by a worker in a pay reference period shall be the total of the number of hours spent by him during the pay reference period in carrying out the duties required of him under his contract to do non-hours work.

Don’t bother trying to decipher what it means. It is perhaps not meant to be understood like most esoteric government circulars.

The passage is from the draft National Minimum Wage Regulations of 1998. It was the definition in those regulations of “non-hours work” and no points for guessing that it is considered a masterpiece of obfuscation. But it looks like we are headed towards slightly better times — or say — simpler times.

In a recent crackdown by the Local Government Association in England, officials were ordered to replace 100 politically-correct words with plain English. Terms shown the door include place shaping — which is creating a nice office — and facilitate, meaning to help.

Officialese is by no means a patently British phenomenon even though Sir Humphrey Appleby has time and again confused poor Jim Hacker with his convoluted language.In India with bureaucratic language being the result of a Victorian educational curriculum, there is more than enough scope to obfuscate. Prabhat Ranjan, 29, who is set to join the State Public Service, wants to cut out the government gobbledygook, “For us who are working in public sector for the aim of public welfare, it wouldn’t work to distance the common man by using complicated language. You have to talk to people in the language they understand. ”

Itika Sharma, a post-graduate in English, thinks it is high time government officials cut to the chase, “As an English language student, I would say that it is not so much the complicated language but the essence that makes something work for me. If you can’t understand something, how will you relate to it? I think government jargon is a barrier in reaching the masses.”

For journalist J. Jagannath, decoding his credit card statement is like reading fine print, “Phrases like “duly exercised” or “as per the terms and conditions” appear in every third sentence. It makes for a tedious reading.”Journalists sit through hours of waffle just to get to the point of a speech. It’s worse for television reporters who end up with a big chunk of recording they understand nothing of.

In 1979, the “Plain English Campaign” was launched in England with a purpose to combat gobbledygook.

The independent pressure group, which fights for public information to be written in plain English, has more than 6,000 registered supporters in 70 countries. Its founder director, Chrissie Maher, had said: “In 1979, we stood outside Parliament shredding gobbledygook to protest at the state of official documents. We’ve changed thousands of documents, but more importantly we’ve changed attitudes. Unclear writing is now far more likely to be caused by bad habits rather than bad intentions.” We couldn’t agree more, Ms. Maher.

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