English campaign calls for the end of `obvious' language

AFP , LONDON

Sat, Sep 15, 2007 - Page 6

Campaigners for the English language on Thursday attacked a growing tendency for "obvious" public information posters, such as a police sign urging people: "Don't Commit Crime."

Other examples highlighted by the Plain English Campaign -- which fights for the effective use of English -- include "Warning: Platform ends here" on the end of rail station platforms, and "May cause drowsiness" on sleeping pills.

"It's a phenomenon we noticed in recent years -- a kind of talking in a vacuum. There are so many examples," said a spokesman, citing packets of nuts labelled "Warning: contains nuts."

"The best one I have come across was a sign reading `Caution: water on road during rain,'" he said.

"They assume a lack of intelligence on the part of the reader. `Do not commit crime. Pay for your fuel' is hardly a deterrent to a criminal who has every intention of driving off without paying," the spokesman said.

Hertfordshire Police said the "Don't Commit Crime" sign was part of a campaign aimed at stopping motorists driving away from gas stations without paying for fuel.

"If stating the obvious helps to reduce crime or has any impact at all we will do it," said a spokeswoman. "We are not saying it is going to stop hardened criminals, but it may make someone who is nervous think twice."

The Plain English Campaign cited other examples including:

* "May irritate eyes" -- on a can of self-defense pepper spray;

* "Do not open door while airborne except in emergency" -- on emergency exit doors in planes;

* "Removing the wheel can influence the performance of the bicycle" -- from a Dutch bicycle manual;

* "Do not iron clothes on body" -- from packaging on a steam iron.

"Our advice would be say what you need to plainly and simply then stop. If nothing needs to be said, say nothing," the Plain English Campaign spokesman said.