Plain English Campaign: get your priorities right

! This post hasn't been updated in over a year. A lot can change in a year including my opinion and the amount of naughty words I use. There's a good chance that there's something in what's written below that someone will find objectionable. That's fine, if I tried to please everybody all of the time then I'd be a Lib Dem (remember them?) and I'm certainly not one of those. The point is, I'm not the kind of person to try and alter history in case I said something in the past that someone can use against me in the future but just remember that the person I was then isn't the person I am now nor the person I'll be in a year's time.

There’s nothing like getting your priorities right and this is nothing like getting your priorities right.

The Campaign for Plain English has convinced Tesco to change the wording of its “10 items or less” because it’s grammatically incorrect.  They quite rightly point out that when you know the quantity then it is grammatically correct to say “10 items or fewer“.  But what the hell has this got to do with making things easier to understand?  Is there any English speaker in the world that wouldn’t understand what “10 items or less” means?

Here are a couple of quotes from their website:

What is Plain English Campaign?

We are an independent organisation fighting against jargon, gobbledygook and other confusing language, while promoting crystal-clear language. We are based in New Mills, Derbyshire, in England.

What is plain English?

We define plain English as writing that the intended audience can read, understand and act upon the first time they read it. Plain English takes into account design and layout as well as language.

Ticks neither of those boxes so why are they wasting their time and Tesco’s money on getting a harmless name changed when it doesn’t do anything to promote their agenda?
If the Campaign for Plain English wanted to target Tesco then there is a far more legitimate reason for complaint than breaking an arcane grammatical rule – the labelling of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish products as such and the labelling of English products as British.  Putting up a sign saying “10 items or less” instead of “10 items or fewer” introduces absolutely no ambiguity whatsoever, the meaning cannot be confused.  Labelling English products as British does make the label entirely ambiguous – was the product produced in England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland?  Unless it tells you the county on the packaging then it’s impossible to tell.

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