Do we need an award for being jargon-free?

The UK prime minister has pleaded with his civil service to ditch the jargon and figure out how to get back to language the public — and ministers — can understand.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has signalled a new prize would be added to Whitehall’s annual Civil Service Awards for the achievement of staying jargon-free.

Writing on the Civil Service blog, Cameron said strong communication is central to providing the very best public service and his government, for its second term, wanted “humanity” in the communication between his administration and the public:

“By that I mean a sympathetic understanding of the problems confronting the people we’re all here to serve. That understanding helps us to provide humane, professional services and to answer the public’s questions properly.  It also helps us to develop policies. Creating policy that works in practice requires us to step into the shoes of those whom the policy will affect.

“But honesty, integrity and humanity need to be accompanied by effective communication.  All our communications with the public should be human, clear, simple, helpful and professional. This means explaining complexity in everyday terms and translating jargon into simple English.  If we can’t do that, we won’t communicate.”

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  • It’s not for want of trying in the British case but they are clearly slow learners. Ernest Gowers was commissioned by Treasury and Lord Bridges to produce a guide to clear English for public servants after Gowers finished up as Regional Commissioner for London during the second war. The first edition of Plain Words appeared under the HMSO imprint in 1948, which sold hundreds of thousands of copies. The title was taken up by Penguin, periodically revised and never out of print. The latest revision is by Rebecca Gowers, his great grand-daughter.