Plain English Campaign

Plain English Campaign (PEC) is a commercial editing and training firm based in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1979 by Chrissie Maher, the company is a world leader in plain-language advocacy, working to persuade organisations in the UK and abroad to communicate with the public in plain language. Maher was awarded the OBE in 1994 for her services to plain communication.[1]

In 1990, PEC created the Crystal Mark, its seal of approval. This is a symbol printed on documents that it considers to be as clear as possible for the intended audience. The symbol appears on over 20,000 documents worldwide. They also give out the annual Foot in Mouth Award for "a baffling comment by a public figure"[2] and the Golden Bull Award for "the worst examples of written tripe".[3] Notable winners of the Foot in Mouth Award include Donald Trump, George W. Bush, Gordon Brown, Richard Gere, and Donald Rumsfeld.

PEC has worked all over the world for companies and organisations including British Gas,[4] British Telecom,[5] Irish Life,[6] Telefónica O2[7] and the World Bowls association.[8] It has also worked with the majority of UK council and government departments. Many UK forms and bills carry the Crystal Mark, including the British passport application form.[9]

PEC is often described in the media as a pressure group,[10] and regularly makes public comment about language-related news stories, particularly jargon.[11] In 2008 it criticised a consultation document sent to residents living near Heathrow Airport.[12] The year before, it mocked signs put up by police in Hertfordshire that warned the public not to commit crime.[13]

In 2006 its supporters voted Bill Shankly the author of the greatest footballing quotation of all time.[14] A 2004 survey revealed that "At the end of the day" was considered the most irritating cliché.[15]

Famous supporters of PEC include Margaret Thatcher [16] and broadcaster John Humphrys.[17]

PEC has been criticised by writer Oliver Kamm, who wrote: "The joke – not that it's funny – is that a body ostensibly concerned with clarity of language is both incompetent in its own use of English and heedless of the task it sets itself."[18]

A different point of view was given by Tom McArthur, editor of The Oxford Companion to the English Language, who said, "In all the history of the language, there has never been such a powerful grassroots movement to influence it as Plain English Campaign."[19]

In 2011 PEC criticised the Met Office for using the phrase "probabilities of precipitation" instead of "rain is likely". The Met Office responded by explaining that precipitation does not mean only rain. A Met Office spokesman said: "Precipitation covers a wide range of stuff falling from the sky including rain, sleet, snow, hail, drizzle, and even cats and dogs – but sums it up in just one word."[20]

See also


  1. The London Gazette: no. 53527. p. 13. 1993-12-31. Retrieved 2011-02-01.
  2. "Bush leaves White House with Lifetime Achievement Award from Plain English Campaign". Plain English Campaign. 2008. Archived from the original on February 16, 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-15.
  3. "PEC Awards". Plain English Campaign. 2008. Retrieved 2009-05-15.
  4. British Gas, "British Gas website"
  5. BT Today, "Help site is crystal clear" "Bttoday newslist", January 18, 2008.
  6. Irish Life, "Irish Life case study" "Case study", December 2006.
  7. Laurence Wardle, "Ofcom review of alternative dispute resolution schemes" "Report and draft recommendations", 4 October 2005.
  8. World Bowls, "Laws of the sport of bowls" "World Bowls", 2006.
  9. Cabinet Office, "The Six Service Standards for Central Government", "The Six Service Standards for Central Government", July 2001.
  10. Paul Majendie, "George Bush loses close run for Foot in Mouth" Reuters, 11 December 2007.
  11. Anna Lagerkvist, "ID theft special: is jargon confusing computer users?" "Digital Home", 21 October 2006
  12. UK Airport News,"MP and Plain English Campaign back calls to extend Heathrow consultation" "Heathrow Airport news", 23 January 2008.
  13. BBC News "Police mocked for 'obvious' signs" "BBC News website", 13 September 2007.
  14. Sky News, "Best Footie Quote Ever?" "Sky News website", 7 July 2006.
  15. BBC News, "Campaign's call to ditch cliches" "BBC News website", 24 March 2004.
  16. [Margaret Thatcher, "Plain English Campaign" D. E. Ager, Ideology and Image: Britain and Language], May 2003.
  17. BBC Press Office, "John Humphrys" "Biographies", December 2004
  18. Kamm, Oliver (March 24, 2004), Plain English Baloney II
  19. "Plain speaking is no joke". BBC News. BBC. 10 December 1997. Retrieved 30 September 2010.
  20. "Plain English award for Met Office 'gobbledygook'". BBC News. 9 December 2011. Retrieved 8 February 2014.

External links

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