From David Rotherham.
I READ the article on plain English (JEP, 7 December) with interest and some sympathy. Although I sympathise with and approve of the primary aims of the Plain English Campaign, I think there is another side that has to be considered.
My wardrobes contain a variety of clothes, some casual, some smart, that enable me to dress my person for any occasion I would wish. Likewise, my vocabulary contains a variety of words to dress my message appropriately for the circumstances.
For example, I usually target my contributions to the JEP letters page at intelligent adults, often with a serious point to make. Thus, I tend to pick my words to be the verbal equivalent of a suit and tie, to show that I respect my audience, and would like the same from them.
On the other hand, I once sent you a letter on dog fouling which used more sarcasm and simpler language than normal, because I was trying to get through to a less intelligent section of your readership.
Also, I think there is often a need for words to be a verbal uniform, formal and impersonal, to emphasise that the message is about the content, not the writer.
‘I don’t like it, so you can’t have it!’ may be the gist of a Planning refusal, for instance, but were it actually to be issued in words as plain as that, the recipient would be outraged, whereas they would be merely disappointed to read: ‘The department regrets that the proposed structure is not wholly compatible with current guidelines.’
To be fair, there are those compulsively verbose people who, like a guest turning up in a dinner suit when the dress code is casual, insist on being inappropriately grand in their English (I could be stoning my own glasshouse here!).
Such writers do need to be encouraged to save their rhetoric for the occasions that really need it, so I would not oppose the Plain English Campaign altogether.
I just appreciate that English is a wonderful language, and I feel very lucky to have it as my mother tongue. It would be a shame to sacrifice its richness and subtlety in the fashionable pursuit of ‘dumbing-down’.