Plain English Campaign

The 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 Order of the British Empire 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 alsoEdit


  1. ^ "No. 53527". The London Gazette. 1993-12-31. p. 13.
  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. Archived from the original on 2009-04-20. Retrieved 2009-05-15.
  4. ^ British Gas, [1] Archived 2012-02-12 at the Wayback Machine "British Gas website"
  5. ^ BT Today, "Help site is crystal clear" Archived 2009-06-16 at the Wayback Machine "Bttoday newslist", January 18, 2008.
  6. ^ Irish Life, "Irish Life case study" Archived 2008-09-10 at the Wayback Machine "Case study", December 2006.
  7. ^ Laurence Wardle, "Ofcom review of alternative dispute resolution schemes" Archived 2008-09-10 at the Wayback Machine "Report and draft recommendations", 4 October 2005.
  8. ^ World Bowls, "Laws of the sport of bowls" Archived 2011-04-09 at the Wayback Machine "World Bowls", 2006.
  9. ^ Cabinet Office, "The Six Service Standards for Central Government" Archived 2008-09-08 at the Wayback Machine, "The Six Service Standards for Central Government", July 2001.
  10. ^ Paul Majendie, "George Bush loses close run for Foot in Mouth" Archived 2009-06-16 at the Wayback Machine Reuters, 11 December 2007.
  11. ^ Anna Lagerkvist, "ID theft special: is jargon confusing computer users?" Archived 2007-12-10 at the Wayback Machine "Digital Home", 21 October 2006
  12. ^ UK Airport News,"MP and Plain English Campaign back calls to extend Heathrow consultation" Archived 2008-12-17 at the Wayback Machine "Heathrow Airport news", 23 January 2008.
  13. ^ BBC News "Police mocked for 'obvious' signs" Archived 2009-01-29 at the Wayback Machine "BBC News website", 13 September 2007.
  14. ^ Sky News (July 7, 2006), What's The Best Football Quote Ever?, archived from the original on December 23, 2009, retrieved February 8, 2008
  15. ^ BBC News, "Campaign's call to ditch cliches" Archived 2008-12-12 at the Wayback Machine "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" Archived 2009-11-26 at the Wayback Machine "Biographies", December 2004
  18. ^ Kamm, Oliver (March 24, 2004), Plain English Baloney II, archived from the original on May 10, 2011, retrieved January 17, 2011
  19. ^ "Plain speaking is no joke". BBC News. BBC. 10 December 1997. Archived from the original on 5 January 2011. Retrieved 30 September 2010.
  20. ^ "Plain English award for Met Office 'gobbledygook'". BBC News. 9 December 2011. Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 8 February 2014.

External linksEdit