Plain English Campaign

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 positions itself as a 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, the Plain English Campaign created the Crystal Mark, its seal of approval. This is a symbol printed on documents which it considers to be as clear as possible for the intended audience. According to the Plain English Campaign, 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 George W. Bush, Gordon Brown, Richard Gere, and Donald Rumsfeld.

The Plain English Campaign 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]

The Plain English Campaign 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]

The Plain English Campaign 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 the Plain English Campaign.”[19]

See also


  1. ^ 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. Retrieved 2009-05-15. [dead link]
  3. ^ "PEC Awards". Plain English Campaign. 2008. Retrieved 2009-05-15. 
  4. ^ British Gas, "Our commitments to you" "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", December 11, 2007.
  11. ^ Anna Lagerkvist, "ID theft special: is jargon confusing computer users?" "Digital Home", October 21 , 2006
  12. ^ UK Airport News,"MP and Plain English Campaign back calls to extend Heathrow consultation" "Heathrow Airport news",January 23, 2008
  13. ^ BBC News "Police mocked for 'obvious' signs" "BBC News website", September 13, 2007
  14. ^ Sky News, "Best Footie Quote Ever?" "Sky News website", July 07, 2006
  15. ^ BBC News, "Campaign's call to ditch cliches" "BBC News website", March 24, 2004,
  16. ^ D E Ager "Ideology and Image" "Ideology and Image", 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. 

External links

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