Dear Sir Humphrey

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The Independent Online
Home Office staff are being told to stop using complicated English and write instead like 'tabloid hacks'. A former editor of the 'Daily Mirror' advises

Can you and your pinstriped chums hack it in the 21st century? The word is that Whitehall supremo Richard Wilson has ordered you to brush up on your sloppy use of English.

He's told the Home Office's 12,000 officials: "Ministers can't be bothered to read the submissions put to them by their civil servants because they are boring and full of long and complicated quotations."

(If you ask me, that sentence is a bit of a mouthful, too. But Wilson is a permanent secretary, after all, and you can't expect him to overcome all the problems of his privileged background straight away.)


In the spirit of the shock Wilson edict, here are some ground rules to cure your over-educated staff of their verbosity.

OUT go obscure quotes, especially from long-dead Greeks. (Anyway, isn't Homer a bit of a dodgy name?)

OUT goes the use of foreign languages, such as mandarinese. (As Prince Philip would say, we'll all have slitty eyes soon.)

OUT go passive verbs (whatever they are).

OUT go flowery adjectives (except for posh, swank, brutal, evil, stunning and super).

OUT go long sentences (except for criminals).

OUT go all polysyllabic words (who cares what parrots say?)


Now for the positive guidelines ...

Start as many sentences as possible with "And". (It was good enough for the New English Bible, wasn't it?)

And if that gets monotonous, try "But". It's great for those bits of "on the other hand, Minister" advice.

Use cliches with gay [is this from Homer? Ed.] abandon. The writing isn't on the wall for them yet.

Make intros short and punchy. Grab your Minister's attention with: "A horror plan for Britain's jails ..."


Remember, there's no virtue in writing measured and flowing English. It's part of that dusty past of classical education when people hadn't anything better to do than translate fairy stories from Greek and Latin.

Those were the days when people lacked all the basic facilities (television, video, satellite dish and computer screen). Now ideas that took forever to explain are available in seconds.

That's why the modern tabloids should be required reading for your staff. And it might help if you probed that silly entrance exam. It's obviously far too literate.

(Up) yours,