Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Award for Convoluted Writing

We are fans of the Center for Plain Language, founded by a longtime federal employee who got sick of all the crazy and convoluted writing she encountered on the job.

NPR carried a story yesterday about a new award her organization is handing out. Here's an excerpt of the "winning" language--which appears on the form the Department of Homeland Security gives to people entering the country.

As the NPR story says, "The person who nominated the form sums it up like this: 'Welcome to the United States -- you diseased, crazy, drugged-out, criminal, lying, spying child abuser!'"

Read the rest of the article here. (And thanks to Erin Redd for sending it.)

We do, of course, have some thoughts on where this writing gets its start. When we taught at a private high school, some of the smartest kids embraced this horrible style--and they were rewarded for it. You have to be smart to use all those big words, right? One student in particular went ballistic when we suggested how she might simplify her paper. She thought the result made her sound "stupid." Last we heard, she is now a law student.

Bigger words are not necessarily better words when it comes to writing. Simple, clear sentences really work.


Faith Pray said...

I loved this one. It reminds me of John Cleese in the Monty Python "Redundancy Department of Redundancy" skit.

Curious George said...

What's really amazing is that this is a document that is supposed to make sense to someone visiting the country. One presumes English is not their first language, or at least, American English is not.

GenKnit said...

Looks a lot like the info my grandparents had to give when they went through Ellis Island—only they were also minutely examined for head lice.

Some things never change, others change for the worse.

Sarah Stevenson said...

I love that they managed to work in "moral turpitude." I need to figure out how to insert that into my day-to-day communications.

Unknown said...