Tamsin Constable

Death to Euro-jargon?

What’s your perception of the European Commission? Aloof, bureaucratic and irrelevant? If so, you’re not alone. Many people feel alienated from EU institutions. One of the main reasons for this poor image, MEPs in Strasbourg admitted this month, is over-technical language, fondly known as ‘Euro-jargon’.

Now, though, the EC is going to try to communicate better with its citizens.

On his Facebook Page, Ireland East MEP Liam Aylard writes “Communication with EU citizens must be clear, understandable and relevant. That starts first and foremost with plain language. Terms and acronymns such as ‘ECF’, ‘statutory instruments’ and ‘competences’ among others mean nothing outside the EU institutions but are widely used within.”

His hope is that good communication will help make Europe more visible at a local level. Let’s hope he’s right. If the EC cut reign in the ‘Euro-jargon’, it will help enormously to make it seem warm, approachable and above all relevant.

Heavens; it might even start sounding cuddly.

New words, old grammar

Here’s my sister’s attempt, aged around 5 and living in a French-speaking country, to press new French words into service using familiar English grammar. She found a sponge in the hallway. This is what she said, utterly naturally and complete with perfectly rolled ‘rs’:

I trouved this éponge traîning in the couloir.

trouver = to find
éponge = sponge
traîner = to hang around
couloir = corridor

Trying to do the reverse, I’ve come up with this:

J’ai found cette sponge hangaroundant dans le corridor.

Actually, I’m more interested in what the sponge was doing in the corridor in the first place.

And avec ça, I’ll laisse you maintenant and retourne to my travail.

It’s OK to start with ‘And’ or ‘But’.

Children start off learning to write with simple sentences.

‘I rode my bike to the park.’

Then they’re taught to use ‘joining words’ (conjunctions: and, but, so, when, if etc) to stitch two short sentences into a longer one.

I rode my bike to the park, and then I played on the swings.

The singer wanted to sing, but she had lost her voice.

At this point, however, confusion sets in. In an attempt to get children to write longer sentences, teachers start to fall for the myth that such ‘joining words’ belong in the middle of sentences, not at the beginning.

Before you know where you are, you’ve got a so-called ‘rule’ that says you can’t start a sentence with a conjunction.

If that were the case, we wouldn’t be able to write any of the following.

While he was cooking chips, his false teeth fell out.

When Samantha arrived at work, she discovered that her boss had turned into a turnip.

As I was buying a new dress, I inadvertently bought some new boots as well.

Consider yourself illuminated on the issue.

Or rather, as the Bible says, And God said let there be light… And there was light.

Building site or PR opportunity?

Take a look at this – another pic snatched out of a moving car’s window.

It’s just a little old sign, right? But I see three problems. First, it uses unnecessary words. Second, about half the words have got three or more syllables. (Words with lots of syllables are fine, when appropriate. Shorter words, though, work better and quicker.) And third, it’s a bit stiff.

we wish to = redundant. They wouldn’t put a sign up if they didn’t wish to say something.
apologise = sorry
inconvenience = disrupt, disturb, bother
experienced = redundant word. If you didn’t experience the inconvenience, it wouldn’t be inconvenient.
construction = building / works
activities = redundant word

How about something like this:

‘The new bus station will be ready soon. Please bear with us.’

This is, in my opinion, warmer, clearer and easy to grasp as you drive by. It also seizes a opportunity to remind people why they’re putting up with the construction.

Bingo! A big, noisy construction site turns into a PR opportunity!

Uniliver can’t spell

Come on Unilever! I saw your latest poster for Magnum ice-cream on the London Underground’s tracks: it stopped me dead in my own.

There’s a spelling mistake. A delicious, high-quality chocolate-covered whopper, and it shines down gloriously on the thousands of passengers that pass through Kings Cross every day.

I managed to snatch my camera out of my bag and snap this just as the tube pulled out.

Unilever can't spell

Ad for Magnum ice-cream with spelling mistake

You’ve written it’s with an apostrophe. It should be its.

With the apostrophe, the sentence in fact says: ‘It is name?’ Nonsense.

What you need here is the possessive version, which ditches the apostrophe. The ice-cream’s name? Its name?

If I see this error on a street stalls, I shrug it off. They don’t have advertising budgets, copywriters etc. But from a multi-million pound company? With a high-end product? It left me ice-cold. I pointed it out to my son (one of your future customers?)

Granted, it’s a quirky little English rule. But not knowing it shows you up no end. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Hey mumbo!

As a rich and constantly evolving language, English will always enjoy fresh new mumbo jumbo. See if you can be the first to use one of the following.

Mumbo: ‘Go offline’.

Example: ‘I’m terribly busy doing xxx at the moment. Can we go offline with your request to discuss your deadlines?’

Means: I can’t be bothered to talk about this now. You’re being a pest. I want to get rid of you by pretending that we’ll get round to it later.

Mumbo: ‘Brand’

Example: ‘We booked the wrong venue for the conference. How shall we brand it?’

Means: ‘We’ve really cocked up here. What’s the best way to avoid trouble?’

Mumbo: ‘Human Capital’

Example: ‘You need to speak to Human Capital’

Means: ‘Human Resources / Personnel.’

From a fuller list compiled by Marlys Harris at CBS Money Watch.