Tamsin Constable

Chrissie’s cross

There was a great header in the Wall Street Journal this week.

‘Crusader for Syntactic Disambiguation Exprobrates Banks’ Labored Locutions.’

The article tells the story of how the Royal Bank of Scotland recently got a roasting from Chrissie Maher, matriarch of the UK’s Plain English Campaign. Ms Maher had received a leaflet from the bank brimming with “tortuous and ambiguous sentences”. You can read what she did next here.

What particularly interests me is that so often mumbo jumbo isn’t just about frilly language that we can laugh at: it does much more damage, by interfering with people’s democratic rights. If you can’t understand what you’re being offered, how can you possibly make a sound decision? If the language used to communicate with you is intimidating, how can you hope to establish a fair, level, mutually respectful relationship?

Ms Maher, the article says, didn’t learn how to read until she was 15. “I know what’s it’s like to feel isolated because of words.”

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