On October 13, 2010, President Obama signed into law the “United States Plain Writing Act of 2010.” Thirteen years after President Clinton issued his own “Plain Writing in Government” memorandum, the revised set of guidelines states that by July of this year all government agencies must simplify the often perplexing bureaucratic jargon used in documents produced for the American public. Gone are the grammatically longwinded sentences, replaced with simpler English words, grammar and syntax.
The Executive Order for plain language states that all documents shall be accessible, consistent and above all else, easy to understand. In fact, the word ‘shall’ is a perfect example. Deemed as too stuffy and somewhat ancient, ‘shall’ will be replaced with the more affable ‘should.’ Some other terms that are off limits include “precluded,” “heretofore,” “in accordance with,” and the austerely rigid, “herein.”
Language reform is nothing new. In Mark Twain’s “A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling,” the author calls for the eradication of the “useless” letter C by replacing it with either K or S. In addition, Twain petitions for the abolishment of the letter X from the English alphabet.
OK, we confess, Twain’s proposal was a joke, but the implications of this new law are very real. Consider the following sentence from the Department of Justice’s Claims for Damages due to International Terrorism.
Before: “The amount of expenses reimbursed to a claimant under this subpart shall be reduced by any amount that the claimant receives from a collateral source in connection with the same act of international terrorism. In cases in which a claimant receives reimbursement under this subpart for expenses that also will or may be reimbursed from another source, the claimant shall subrogate the United States to the claim for payment from the collateral source up to the amount for which the claimant was reimbursed under this subpart.”
After: “If you get a payment from a collateral source, we will reduce our payment by the amount you get. If you get payments from us and from a collateral source for the same expenses, you must pay us back the amount we paid you.”
What do you think? Does this go far enough? Would you like to see other types of language reform to make language easier to use and understand? What do you suggest?
I like the word ’shall’
My first confusion with this article is not with the words, but with the dates — October 13, 2011 is still a few months away, so when did Obama actually sign this into law? Was it actually last year? Then why an article about it now?
ah, fixed already, I see! Much better : )
The after version is nice. Less to read. Saves time and paper.
It’s about time these revisions are put into practice. All that jargon is just pure confusion. Time to modernize and let go of let go of all that ‘goblediegoop’/
I think this is just another way our government is catering to the immigrants that are plaguing this country. Instead of reform for Americans to catch up with the more refined and intelligent Europe, no, lets just dummy ourselves down for the immigrants. No wonder the other countries think Americans are so stupid, our own government keeps trying to prove it. It’s to the point I can no longer leave this country and hold my head up high as an American. I have to deny that I am an American, and luckily for me my intelligence proves it. Disgraceful!
while I think it’s important for some things to be specific as possible.
Most documents as well as the English language as a whole is too cluttered with too many unnecessary words with too much of a likeness in meaning.
Many packaging, medical info on forms are hard to understand, especially none well-read peoples…time consuming, looking up words to decipher, some have no internet use and a lot of docs are written and re-written with one word change dozens of times and final reverts back usually yo first word choices…
“Collateral” could be confusing because it has other meanings. Wouldn’t “another” be more straightforward?
@ Tracie G:
How optomistic! I actually LIKE america. Go hot dogs and folk songs! =^)
I can read the first one, but I have to say it aloud to totally understand it. The new one is much better.
Yes i would to see the governemt (jargon).Done away with.Just give me my money do.Dont try to jack me.As long as this doing away with governemt (jargon).Doesnt end America or Americian way of Life.
I agree that some simplification is necessary. However, I completely disagree with the use of the verb ‘get’. This very will completely wipe out the need for a strong vocabulary. I propose the following:
If the victim or injured collects from a collateral source, the government will reduce its payment by the amount that the victim or injured received. If the victim or injured receives payments from the government and from a collateral source for the same expenses, the amount must be reimbursed (or returned or repaid) to the government.
I think that by using the word ‘get’ and changing from third person voice to first person voice not only simplifies things but takes matters farther toward degrading our intelligence.
Comprehensible laws are warranted but if we expect such a low level of educations and intelligence then it will become the standard. The government must find a good medium.
“BEYOND APPREHENSION” is how I would describe my response. They even took it far enough to replace references to third parties with the incredibly ambiguous personal pronoun “you”? So what, now that people who don’t READ the documents aren’t subject to its laws?
Maybe it’s time to move to England.
Herein has an excellent idea, we should do the same with Shakespeare
Legal speak isn’t too bad (contracts are the worst, tho), but sometimes I need an interpreter for my doctor! Even when he or she is trying to “explain in English” it can be a bit over my head.
Let K and S carry the load and convert C the CH sound and then sort out the uses for Vowels. Fonetik riting might turn out to be fun.
@ Tracie G
No, the reason you can’t walk around with you “head up high as an American” is other countries is because the U.S. most likely bombed them or payed for their civil wars in the past 100 years.
Please spare us your idiocy, that kind of attitude is exactly why people think Americans are stupid, because of people like you and comments like that, I think you will find that any immigrant could either match the average vocabulary of an American or have a better one. Pathetic… and no the government is not catering to immigrants, but to its own population, aka. you.
America is mostly composed of immigrants. Somehow, I doubt that you are a Native American. Hoist by your own petard, you might say…
Based on the example here alone (I don’t know if that’s actually what will happen) it looks like they’re just swinging between two extremes. On the one hand there is an intimidating, unintelligible (albeit very precise) paragraph. On the other, a short, easy-to-understand but legally fuzzy statement. It’s easy to get the gist of the second, but if you want any fine detail you’re in trouble; the first melts your mind. If that’s where they’re heading, they’re going too far.
“Shall” will be replaced by “should”? Doesn’t “shall” legally mean “must”?
It is a mistake and a waste of taxpayer resources. The true problem is not the big words but the average American’s inability to use or understand them correctly, regardless of where he or she hails from. Instead of correcting poor usage, like using celibate to mean chaste, we just include another entry in the dictionary. After a while, nobody notices the distinction. For example, attorney and lawyer do not mean the same thing but try finding someone who is not a word geek that knows this. The rule seems to be that if you use a word incorrectly enough it becomes correct. Occasionally, it is ironic, as when someone is not feeling well and says that they are “nauseous” when they means nauseated: nauseated means you feel ill; nauseous means you make others ill.
The new law works only if two words mean the exact same thing. Here is a helpful guide I have used: if there are two words for something, they generally don’t mean the same thing because there would be no reason to have the second word. Now we are not speaking of slang terms that are created to conceal the true meaning or to appear trendy but words used to communicate meaning. The article give a a perfect example: shall does not mean should. Shall, in legal usage, means that the referenced act is mandatory. Why am I deferring to legal usage? Because the vast majority of what this law affects is legal or quasi-legal, such as the DOJ’s explanation of the Claim for Damages.
The problem with before and after sections is that they do not mean the exact same things. “Subrogate” means to stand in the shoe of another or to substitute one thing for another. The “before” is not saying you have to pay us back, it is presenting the larger idea that if there is a collateral source, and the U.S. gov. has paid you, the U.S. “inherits” your rights to pursue the claim. Yes, the “after” is easier, but here is the rub: it doesn’t correctly convey the message of the original. You must change the meaning. And if you are saying to yourself “maybe we should change the meaning”, you might be correct but now you are talking about changing the law, not just the verbiage.
Dan is probably right another would be better here but to know we would need more context than we are given. Collateral refers to “another” but there is also the denotation that the other is subordinate to the primary source. For the passage above, it doesn’t matter but it may if we saw the whole regulation.
The empirical truth is that, if you want to say something with more easily understandable language, to get the same meaning you will have much longer explanations. Think of it in terms of giving directions to a traveler. If you are from the same town, you can use landmarks to shorten the length of your explanation/directions. The same thing is true with any form of jargon. It “packs” words with more meaning so that you can use fewer of them. For example, an “accord” is a contract in which one of the parties takes less then what they are already legally entitled to. Isn’t it easier to say “they signed an accord” then saying “they signed a contract that entitled one of the parties to less then what he or she was already legally entitled to”?
Actually, large words provide definition and specificity. If you replace “shall” with “should,” it becomes more of a suggestion. Less and shorter words give rise to attempted interpretation, and the understanding of the laws can, after a time, become something entirely different from their intent at the time of their being passed.
*reads second paragraph again*
“If you GET a payment…”?
If you receive a payment, people! I get the feeling that the problem with jargon is not that people can’t read it, it’s that those who use it don’t know how to write.
This is precisely what George Orwell warned us about in his novel “1984″ in which he predicts a totalitarian state that expressly “bastardizes” the language as a means to keep the population ignorant and cooperative.
Language is the only means of communicating one’s ideas and thoughts effectively. To diminish the quality or quantity of available words is to outright seek one’s own demise, as his being is bent on discovery which necessitates the need to express same ever more clearly as he hones in on his reference.
If not for elevating my language, how else am I to demonstrate that I have learned post-secondary English except to wave a piece of paper around?
Likewise, if not for elevating the caliber of my language, how would I possibly describe the difference between my experience and that of another?
It is easy to distinguish a mechanic from a layman as the mechanic also deploys esoteric language as a means to thoroughly convince his customer that, A he knows what he’s talking about and B, his price is justified.
Let us not succumb to Government pressure. Our only means of defense is to continue to use the most colourful words we can, followed by regular visits here to learn more!
Thank you for reading.
Go ahead, change your legal documents…but I will thank you to leave all else! I will continue to speak as if I have recently come from Lord of the Rings, however you deign to command me.
Actually the legalese statement says that one would have to repay the amount of copay not the necessarily full amount. Also it describes what the payments are for.
Clarity is a good thing; you don’t have to cloak your spiel in legalese to be unclear. You can do so in redneck, uptight christian, ebonics or midwest t.v. What you write is important to what you mean.
So with keyboard in hand; think clear thoughts, reflect on your implications, and check your spelling. One or more supreme beings willing, you will be understood.
I wonder if the reason for this simplification of legal jargon is the declination of American education.
If you look at the Constitution and its amendments, they seem to be written in an almost esoteric manner compared to today’s vernacular. Also consider the King James Bible, it was translated into a similar form of English as the Constitution; in a manner that was to be understood by the average person. Now there seems to be few people that can comprehend that kind of English (as evidenced by the many “standard English” Bibles and “dumbed down” legal speak you see today). I also think the bills and laws that have been passed within the last thirty years were purposely made so no one could understand them.
Once upon a time, school children learned many words that most people now have probably never heard.
I would aggree to simplify some of the words to be understood by others, but i would suggest not to change all ambiguous words, we just need to improved our educational system….(to Obama).
Asians are getting better in english, they included it in there educational system, it may not be there First Language, but these will affect the future, since English will degrade, will see the effect longterm in our children, look at callcenter agents most are not americans.
Though Language changes, it is a must to improve the Educational System and the Teaching approaches.
I am having drama over this whole idea that we are not finding a happy medium with our language too. Yes, things change and we need to update so people can understand and aren’t getting screwed, but there is a point when the government should be concerned that small children can now comprehend its legal jargon. Are we going to lower the age of adulthood to 12? Our libraries are free people. Take the time and educate yourselves. The American dream is fast becoming a fable. Yes I have the freedom to do and say whatever I want for the most part, but so does everyone else around me. It’s depressing when the masses have to be spoken to like they are 7~ whether they are from this country or not. ( The ones who are not from here are working their asses off to stay, so we must be doing something better.) The answer is not to run away to Europe, dude~unless you are a quitter, then you’re just a dick. The answer is education and knowing the difference between a want and a need. We all need to stop being so greedy, redefine our priorities and take the time to learn about what ‘WE THE PEOPLE’ is really up to in DC…that a President has to issue an order to simplify the language? What series of misfortunes had to coincide to make that occur? Then action needs to take place. You may not want to hear it, but there it is.
I like the concept but care must be taken that trying to get simplicity doesn’t change the meaning. Example “shall” means you must and “should” means you ought to. Not the same thing!
Okay, so since when do “should” and “shall” have the same meaning in every context? Shall often carries the meaning of “this will happen” (we shall do this=we are going to do this, this shall not happen=this is not going to happen) whereas should most often carries the meaning of “this is what needs to happen” (I should do this=I need to or want to do this, that should not happen=that is not right or just). Am I missing something here?
To the person stating that the American government is dumbing down the language because of the immigrants and making Americans look stupid to the rest of the world: the government’s dumbing it down for you, not everyone else. The US sure doesn’t need immigrants to show off its general lack of intelligence, when the “native” population does the job just fine.
And regarding the reformulation of the documents; I think it’s a great idea, even though the example given in the article is way too simple. It does sound all smart and lawyer-y with long, complicated words, but there’s no need to write it as if to a preschool child. Though in the end it doesn’t do anybody any good if the recipient doesn’t know what he is being asked or offered. So find a middle ground and stick to it, so neither the bum nor the Harvard graduate get their feelings hurt.
thank god (gods) that i know enough language to understand that the laws before tend to have many loopholes, this should make it easier
I do quite enjoy hearing words like ’shall’ and ‘herein.’ How sad that some just can’t seem to appreciate them…
While I can see the upset at using simpler, and more versatile, words for publishing legal documents for the public, it doesn’t strike me as an entirely bad idea. I was born in the USA to American parents and educated in American schools… And that Before example had me stumped half the time.
At the very least, the ‘dumber’ version should be set up as an optional source, rather than completely doing away with the original text. This would allow more people to understand what the government is doing, or wanting to do, which would let more people vote for what they want without needing degrees in Jargon.
It’s sad we have to “dumb things down” rather than raising educational standards.
And although I find the revised version is an easier read, I completely agree with AnnaB’s comment.
(This whole issue reminds me of the movie “Idiocracy” – I fear we are headed in that direction.)
I agree with AnnaB. A middle between unnecessary and complicated and dumb and degrading is the way to go with documents. I want to go into law so I’m kinda glad they simplified it. I wish though that they hadn’t simplified it so much. :})
Just wondering what ever happen to Ebonics is that even still around?
this is a disgrace i dont really like this =(
americans have proved them self stupid and i think that obama should retire and let some people who knows the words govern the country
I hate this idea and I’m a Democrat…..Get a dictionary and learn the English language…I despise dumbing down our language for people who are idiotic.
I agree with Folkens that the revision’s use of “you” is misleading and probably not binding in a shrewd court of law. I do, however, think that for too long lawyers have written laws which alienate those who must abide by them and for no better reason than to keep gainfully employed as translators of their clients’ native tongues! Language should be precise, but censorship is an invalid cure; lawmakers need to take responsibility for their constituents’ understanding.
I don’t mind if they want to use “plain English”, but make sure that what you are trying to articulate is clear and accurate. The word “shall” in NOT ancient and outdated, and it does NOT mean the same as “should.” And I don’t think that the words mentioned are really all that difficult to understand. Please, lets stop “dumbing down” America!!
I’m appalled they actually considered using “get” in official government documentation…
I wholeheartedly agree with AnnaB. Simplification allows more understanding for the general public not associated with such jargon, but they should not limit it so much that it condescends.
Ubel does have a good point. I wouldn’t alter things already in print on the grounds that it would ravage culture and the beauty of spoken and written word, but I do think that some future modification of language is beneficial for the general public.
I agree with AnnaB. In this instance, they went too far. The simplification should probably be about grammar most of all. The very long and complicated sentences are the real problem for me. I am an immigrant, as you might imagine, but I consider myself to be well read and have good command of English. But I know for a fact that most people for whom English is their first language would have to strain quiet hard to comprehend the first version. The vocabulary is not the problem. With today’s access to the internet and books unfamiliar words can be looked up quiet easily, but that will not help if sentence structure is incomprehensible.
@ Tracie G.- I agree with you to a point. It’s not just the immigrants, it’s also the “leave no child behind” illiterates that we are catering to. Not that just any educated person can decipher government jargon (I usually have to read it 2-3 times), but do we really have to dummy it down this far?
I think it’s a wonderful idea to help the more average American understand what the hell is happening in the government. I do NOT think, as someone had ranted about earlier, that they’re “dumbing things down” for immigrants. I honestly think that’s ridiculous. I’d like to think the government is trying to give the people an opportunity to be a part, helping us to help them, instead of continuing to let most of us ignore what’s happening in our country. Just because some might not have the highest of education, it certainly doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the chance to have a say in this country’s decisions.
If they make it more comprehensible and less time consuming, I think more people would take an interest in the government and the choices we as a people must make. Also, if all the mumbo-jumbo is removed from documents, I believe everything would be more straight-forward. No more reading between the lines, trying to find the hidden meaning.
I think it’s a wonderful idea. Thumbs up to Anna B. I agree completely: the government needs to find a happy medium.
@AnnaB I completely agree. The government can still make laws understandable without sacrificing a strong vocabulary. Oversimplification poses the risk of sounding unintelligent.
Personally, I’m glad that laws are now going to become readable. As a high school student writing a term paper about Obamacare roughly six months ago, I found it confusing enough with all the different oppinions about the new law- much less all the nonsense legal talk I found whilst researching.
Laws are made by lawyers… for lawyers….. with no regard for anyone else.
That is a statement made by a former editor of Fortune magazine some years ago. Language used on legal documents is by them for them when it is supposed to be for us. There are many references to language that masks the true story, such as……”The big print gives it to you and the small print takes it away.”, and so on.
If you can communicate with simple language… WHY NOT. There is no reason for obfuscation that merely confuses and assists deception. (See what I mean).
That does not help. Not at all. And to use my name, for a joke that really did not happen, doesn’t help either, and is simply blackmailing my reputation. Please remove this before I sue Hot Word. It is not funny to use someone’s name wrongly in an insulting joke.
Wow, there’s nothing like “dumbing down” the US another notch. Why don’t you just require people to understand english in order to pass it during school?
I’m going to start law school–I hope what I get is in “normal” English!!
AnnaB put it precisely. It is juvenile and, frankly, making the change was a waste of time; it was understandable before the reform.
Tracie G: It is a failure of intelligence and imagination to reduce this to a matter of ‘dummy us down (sic)…’ ‘…for the immigrants that (sic again) are plaguing this country.’ Although i can stand with you on one thing: i, too, hesitate to identify as American when I’m abroad, but that’s more because of potential association with simplistic nationalistic bigots who make statements such as you have made. The borders that dictate your labels are arbitrary; wisdom and true intelligence run broader and deeper. Deeper even than word choice, grammar and syntax
Good. Like Einstein once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
About time. Sometimes I think the English language is too random.
Who cares if we want to use Latin roots. I think individual letters and sounds are more important.
Immigrants would be cursing at our language for being so random.
For example, enough should be enuf. I’m pretty sure it could make communication between learners easier.
Tracie G! You’re wonderful! That sort of nationalist attitude is the reason why you can’t hold your head up as a proud American. The term “global citizen” comes to mind. There is nothing wrong with making government information accessible to all its citizens. If you feel there are people in your country who are not at what you consider an acceptable intelligence, perhaps you should work to reform education in your country. (Which your government is also responsible for.) Or move somewhere for smart ignorant people.
I’m surprised/amused that you think you’re so intelligent when your one paragraph response is ridden with grammatical mistakes. I’ve taken the liberty of fixing them for you, so you don’t look like an idiot in the future.
I think this is just another way our government is catering to the immigrants that are plaguing this country.
–> In this situation, you would want to use the simple present tense “our government caters to.” “is catering” implies a progressive action. There is a bit of a difference.
Instead of reform for Americans to catch up with the more refined and intelligent Europe,
–> In this sentence, you’ve incorrectly compared Americans to the entire continent of Europe. I think you mean “Europeans.”
no, lets just dummy ourselves down for the immigrants.
–> “dummy ourselves down??” I’m going to assume you used a “dumbed down” phrase to help out the immigrants who are reading this thread…
No wonder the other countries think Americans are so stupid, our own government keeps trying to prove it.
–> Which other countries exactly? …You should omit “the” before “other countries” as you haven’t specified any countries in the previous sentences. “The” is a specific article. I’m surprised you’ve used it incorrectly. This is a very difficult grammar rule for many non-English speaking people to master. There are many excepts to the rules of article usage. For most people born in America, however, this is second nature and does not need to be learned. Very interesting that you made a mistake with that. Also, “people from other countries” would be best as countries themselves do not actually “think.”
–> You’ve also committed a comma splice error. A conjunction is needed to join these two sentences together–not just a comma.
It’s to the point I can no longer leave this country and hold my head up high as an American.
–> I believe you mean, “it has come to the point…” I think you mean to say that it has come to a certain moment in time. If something is “to the point” that just means it is clear and concise.
I have to deny that I am an American, and luckily for me my intelligence proves it. Disgraceful!
–> This is the best sentences by far! The pronoun “it” most likely refers to “American,” although it is a bit ambiguous. In any case, you mean your intelligence proves you ARE American? Is that a good thing? I thought you were ashamed of being American because other people look down on Americans now..
I hope you found this grammar lesson to be helpful. If I were a racist like you, I’d assume you were an immigrant based on your poorly written response. I can’t imagine that English is your first language. However, you may be pleased to hear that I am, in fact, the daughter of an immigrant. I guess we’re not all so stupid. Like any human being, the ones who make an effort to learn, will learn. You’ve surely proven that you don’t need to be an immigrant to be dumb.
As a lawyer, I think the simplification of language that has a legal meaning should be thoughtfully done. Over simplification of the language could lead to a downgrading of our english competency. My grandmother used to tech us when she was alive that we should play and associate with people who are intellectually above us so that we might be inspired and elevated to their level. By bringing down the standards of writing, we are indirectly encouraging complacency and mediocrity among us. I read one of the comments that “the government is catering to immigrants that are plaguing this country” by simplifying government documents, and I am proud to say that I am the anomaly because I was once an immigrant. As a teenage immigrant from Hong Kong, my mother demanded that I learn and excel in English, so as to bring inspiration and pride to my family and I am proud to say that not all immigrants are alike.
Sometimes things can be quite beautiful to read with all these old, outdated words. There’s an art, poetry, and life about them. Have any of you read the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence? You can almost feel the pasion written into them; like fire from the pen. Still, I’m glad they’re addressing this issue. There are documents out there that I can’t even read. I have to ask other people what it says, which is as unfortunate as it is dangerous.
So they’re simplifying a small part of the category of “legalese”… if they want to be thorough, there’s a whole lot more legalese they’re going to have to simplfy.
What do I think about it? On the one hand, it does tend to lead in the direction of dummifying the population. On the other hand, it does make it easier for more people to understand the wording. Perhaps we won’t require expensive lawyers as much to decipher legalese any more. How far we move in that direction remains to be seen.
I do not think the modification to “legal jargon” is a bad thing. Nor do I t think it somehow highlights us, Americans, as unintelligent. For what reason should a document be written in such confusing or ambiguous ways. Not just in terms of the words used, but the word play; as if it’s some type of riddle—that’s ridiculous. I also do not think that just because a document is written in plain, unambiguous, less wordy speech means that the intention is to, somehow, cater to immigrants. Instead I think the silliness of writing public documents that are supposed to provide clear understanding of constitutional laws or rules for the people; whom just may be the common man (So what!), is finally recognized, and thus someone has resolved to know better. I opine that modifying the wording of “legal Jargon” is not an act of unintelligence by Americans. In fact, I contend that what makes us, Americans, unintelligent (if we are), would be gross errors in thinking such as, “our government is catering to the immigrants that are plaguing this country,” or just the mere engineering of the idea in one’s mind that America will manifest as unintelligent simply because she has resolved to take into consideration the justice of it’s people, by seeing to it that they are able to fully apprehend legal concepts; whether or not they have a law degree or are degreed period. For if everyone was born with some type of innate “legal jargon” deciphering mechanism, the concept of lawyers would be contradictory—as even our lawyers seek the counsel of lawyers
“Modernize”? “Save time and paper”? “…info on forms are [sic] hard to understand”? There is a reason why “legalese” is written in those long-winded terms that require us, at times, to re-read the text – aloud if need be – and it isn’t just to torment, confuse or overwhelm us. All those irritating, fussy words like “subrogate”, “subpart” and “shall” have very specific meanings; as for which definition of “collateral” is intended in the text, it’s all about the context.
Alas, the Lowest Common Denominator syndrome has slithered its way into one more facet of American society. I’m deeply touched to know that I no longer need anything beyond a sixth grade education to understand even the most complex legal, scientific or fiscal issues, because Uncle Sam has got my back. Yes, dear Citizen Reader, if “you” now play your cards right, not only can “you” “get” all manner of government assistance and relief, why, they’ve even done the thinking for you…I’m disgusted that my “governemt” (I guess the revisionists had Mr. Stocstill, above, in mind) found it necessary to sink to the level of “you” and “get”. I can almost see the next level of improvements coming, with the following required as header text on every government document: “Listen up, yo”…
After is better. Its much easier to understand especially to those less educated people.
It smells sweet in my buds that simplicity is in place
Tracie G, your comments on america are not smart, as a matter of fact, i expect you to be blonde. The simplified laws are not for immigrants alone, but for people like you as well. Immigrants have not been spreading like a plague in our country. ideas like yours are harmful and racist. Legal speak may be useful but sometimes, longer words have a more specific meaning. The word happy is very vague, but the word jubilant is referring to utter joy. If there was a law that said: All citizens of Vermont must be blissful from 12 A.M. to 12 P.M., and the law was changed to: Everyone in Vermont has to be happy in the afternoon, it will have new meaning.
Tracie G. (see above), unless you are of pure Native American ancestry, one suspects your own ancestors must have been immigrants at some stage themselves. I only hope, as newcomers to America, they were treated with a good deal more respect and compassion than you currently seem capable of displaying.
In fact, as a non-American myself, I might even be so uncharitable as to suggest it’s attitudes like yours that give the rest of the world the impression that Americans indeed have a heck of a lot to be ashamed of.
I like the idea, though I agree with Anna B that perhaps a slightly higher standard could be chosen.
Language isn’t about complexity of syntax or vocabulary – it’s about communication! I would say the “intelligent” choice is finding the most effective and precise way to communicate with as many citizens as possible, so that we might all be on the same page legally – rather than allowing documents to remain difficult to understand for some people. What’s more important: preserving the language, or taking an action that could a diverse population find common ground?
Meanwhile, those who are truly concerned with protecting the English language from the immigrant “plague” may still seek out higher forms of literature to sustain themselves.
…besides, there’s a certain challenge in extracting the essence from a set of complex ideas
Wow. I didn’t know they passed this into law. Thank goodness. Wordy political jargon is a bunch of BS. People might obey the law better if it were easier to understand.
I could see how some people may think this is “dumbing down” the law. I don’t think so. I think it’s simply bringing it up to date. And for all the new laws that have to abide by this one, it keeps wordy undermining to a minimum. Bravo.
I agree with KT. i use that word in my daily language. and im in middle school.
SHALL- AND OTHER SUCH WORDS- DON’T HAVE THE SAME MEANING- OR INTENT~
ODDLY ENOUGH SOME OF THESE WORDS ARE IN OUR BIBLES~
“…SHALL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN…”
WHY ARE WE “DUMBING DOWN” INSTEAD OF EDUCATING?
yes! Please! make this happen! it is just too much trouble to read big words, it stretchs our minds, makes us think. we just rented a movie: “Idiocracy” (it was awful), but like the book “1984″ (good read) it shows how dumb we can become
In the above example I do not like the word get. I think the word received would be a better choice. It seems as though we are going from one extreme to the next with the language………….
I like the word ’shall’ as well. Should, a nice enough word, leaves the door open to ‘I should, but I don’t have to’.
I agree with the update. Stringing together as much jargon as possible so that only an exclusive audience can understand it is pointless. Language is used to communicate and the more effective that communication, the better especially for formal documents and contracts where all parties need a clear understanding of terms. If a lawyer is speaking to a lawyer or a doctor to a doctor or a government worker to government worker, that’s where the jargon belongs; that’s where it makes sense and can communicate more than the laymen terms could, but when dealing with the public there’s no reason to be pompous and use exclusive terminology that it took a person 4-8 years of college to master.
I don’t like this new law. The simpler words sound like we are stupid. Yeah, the after version is easier to read, but the before version sounds more like a law, and not something you would read to a six year old. I agree with Tracie G.
Yes Tracie G, it’s all for the immigrants.
Oh, wait a sec…I see. You mean those Mexican and otherwise Hispanic or more ‘ethnic’ immigrants. You obviously have no qualms with European immigrants. Your bigotry is painfully obvious, and/or you may be deluding yourself. How disgraceful.
Brevity in writing is being lead by the popularity of texting, and is a part of a very long trend. As an example take a quick look at the Federalist Papers–written by J. Jay, A. Hamilton and J. Madison. As important as these documents are to America’s constitutionalism very few schools, colleges or even law schools require their reading. The reason I suspect is not merely prolix, but a difficulty in conveying the thoughts and theories in contemporary terms which, is a fault of the writer not the words. After all, a short sentence can be as mystifying as something longer.
@ Anna B.
I completely agree. Not only does ‘get’ sound clumsy in this context, but it is also rather vague and seems to defeat the point of trying to achieve ‘Clearer English’ in these types of documents.
This is all too depressing for me
I agree with Jason in this matter. Who is “you”? Who is “us”? Would these pronouns be defined somewhere within the law document? Is “you” somehow different in this sentence that it would be interpreted in other places in the document. What corporation, government entity or profiteer represents “us”?
Oops, sorry. “Pronoun” may be beyond the comprehension of some of the less-informed readers. Better stick with “words”.
I am constantly amazed how the leaders in this country do not promote education, enlightenment (again, another big “word”) and personal development and improvement, but they would rather we all sit in front of our TVs, listen to mindless dribble delivered at a 5th grade reading level, and essentially swallow whatever crap (small word) they choose to shove down our throats.
Final thought: when does the 5th grade reading level become too difficult for the average Joe to understand? What then?
ridding america of jargon is a great idea. next, you could rid it of idiotic geniuses like tracy g, above. and while you’re at it, maybe kenny g. i wonder if they’re related? his music is as offensive, stupid, and simplistic as her opinion, so it seems like a match made in he . . . somewhere.
How embarrassing for Americans.
Most of the English language is obsolescent.
Splendid ! I worked in the government for 32 years. Definitively this is an improvement. Notice also how the more confusing 6 lines was converted into a more understandable 3 lines. This brings to mind a quotation “Brevity is the soul of the wit.” Sorry I forgot who the author was.
I think that when government people write the laws, they are making it confusing on purpose so we don’t understand. I think it is good if the common people understand the language, like in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Of course, people back then understood more than we do now. I think we need to raise the common IQ up so we can understand these laws.
@ Tracie G
I don’t really think that such racist comments evince much intelligence :/
Something between the before and after versions would be the best option… a bit more straightforward without doing away with specific terms
@Tracie G. The laws that were written in the past used “Old English” and we are not Englishmen!!! We are Americans and Americans do not speak that way!! Americans are not stupid!
Not everything Presdent Obama does, says, or thinks about, is meant to be evil, malicious or “bad for the people of this Country”. (Many people do not care for his political or idealogical beliefs, nor should they be required to, and I get that. After all, America is about freedom and pluralism… if you don’t understand the meaning of those words, grab a dictionary!)
And any initiative by our President, irregardless of political affiliation, that is meant to improve the communication between our government and the very people it’s intended to serve should be applauded for the effort. (If you don’t think it’s necessary, you should count yourself among the lucky few and pray that you never face a complicated issue requiring the navigation of our bureaucratic system without the benefit of a lawyer or an accountant.)
In fact, unlike others who commented earlier, I don’t see this as detrimental to our citizens’ language skills, nor will it “dumb down” our population. (After all, wouldn’t that claim imply that every American gets their reading comprehension abilities and vocabulary education from government manuals?) It also has little to do with immigrants who only know English as a second language and possess little comprehension of it.
Instead, this will benefit the millions of Americans who own and operate the small businesses that make up the backbone of our economy. Many of them do not possess a college degree or have any sort of formal post secondary education. Nor can they afford the expense of retaining an attorney or accountant to handle all of their dealings with a bureaucracy as complicated as the U.S. government can be. (As a consultant and advisor to many of them over the last two decades, I know firsthand how much they struggle with this issue. It makes even more sense when you realize that they are running million dollar plus enterprises after barely graduated high school. But isn’t that the typical story of how we built this great country?)
So, “Yay!” for this long overdue change that each of us will reap the benefits of in many different ways. And let’s not condemn it until we know that whether it is really something worthy of that.
I think any intelligent person understands these words; therefore, they are not simply “government jargon.” Might as well do away with all the other beautiful words in the English language.
The degeneration of modern society has begun. I “shall” weep for mankind. *Sigh*.
Sounds like a scheme to level out the playing field for persons who want to work for government. I appreciate the rather stylized prose of government and legalese as it dignifies the agreements of a civilized community.
I wrote course and manual material for IRS for many years. All government forms and instructions are supposed to be written at 6th grade level. What 6th grader would understand, “If you get a payment from a collateral source?” I’ve heard a lot of these Congressmen speak and ask questions most of them wouldn’t even understand that. What is wrong with saying “if you get a payment from another source?” or even “someone else.?” My project managers would never accept that. There’s even a feature on Grammar Check on “Word” (the program government authors use to write material) that tells you a “Flesch-Kincaid readability” score. It gives a grade level of the material and a percentage of how easy it is to understand. The government has manuals for writing material and that sentence does not meet the criteria for government writing. It has too many words per sentence and the grade level is supposedly 8th grade, but I don’t know too many 8th graders who would understand it. It also only had a 71% readability score. So, Obama’s “law” was needless, because OPM guidelines already tell government to write at a more readable level, and they aren’t following the OPM guildelines anyway.
@annaB What’s wrong with writing this in the first person? Doesn’t that depend upon the intended audience? If this is for the policy administrator, then you are correct, third person is appropriate. However, this appears to be intended to be read by the claimant. In that case, third person just confuses. As for Tracie G. good luck abroad. Apparently your “education” did not include Strunk and White. Haven’t you heard that simple is better? Or are do you just try to impress with obsifaction?
This sickens me. Gods forbid one picks up a dictionary. Oh, better yet – why don’t we take an idea from fast food menus, and just use pictures?
“Shall” and “should” have two different meanings. I shall suggest that they should use “will.”
We are dumbing down America. This is a pathetic Bill and it is ridiculous that the citizens of America believe that this is necesary. I am sorry but our forefathers are rolling over in their graves.
shall is a great word! Let it stay :’(
It has been said that every profession has its own vocabulary. This is true for medicine, law, and even homebuilders. Anything that reduces or eliminates the verbal barriers has to be good.
“Newspeak” anyone? Let’s “doublethink” this through. How could less vocabulary ever be a good thing? I have to learn 800 words for the GRE. And maybe when I’m done with graduate school those words will banned from tests and books. Expurgating a text not because said text is offensive, but because reading said text is offensive to the mind is an ignominious act of our government.
“Shall” is not synonymous with “should.” I think in most cases it’s closer to “will.” I’m not sure how I feel about this law. Seems like a step closer to Newspeak.
I for one believe that this act will encourage Americans to downgrade their intelligence and, horrifyingly, will cause them to have even less of a vocabulary than the average American “utilizes” on a daily basis.
I love poetry, I love reading, and I use an expansive vocabulary on a daily basis, purely out of habit. I’m not going to change, so yes; it’s definitely time to move to England.
Just wanted to point of that “shall” and “should” have slightly different meanings and they can’t be used in place of one another. “Shall” is used when there is something that has to be done, and “should” only when there is something that ought to be done, but it’s not necessary.
Oh yes moving to England would really help. I do believe history shows the English and many other European countries kept their citizens in the dark by using language they did not understand. Not allowing the public an opportunity to understand or argue what the government was doing because they could not read, write, or have a voice. However, I’m sure they offered free classes to teach the peasants how to understand their legal jargon, and the peasants chose not too attend.
I wish the entire English language were simplified, there are far too many words in it. We should reverse the trend of constantly adding words, it only makes things worse.
Wow, I’m totally thinking how true the movie “Idiocracy” is becoming; the world will be full of morons that do not know any complicated words…
im aussie, so it doesn’t apply to our government….. I think.
That was like a super power. Please come back and blue pencil whip tomorrows biggest idiot.
“…replaced with simpler English words, grammar and syntax.”
We should still use correct punctuation!
we are not dumbing down American,it not a scheme less attorney or accountant more “pro se” for normal poor people,in the beginning was the word and the word was with god and the word was god. let it be simple not showy.
William Zinsser would be proud.
Too bad shall and should don’t mean the same thing. It would however be accurate to subsitute will for shall and should for ought.
I’m tired of everything wrong always being blamed on immigrants. They aren’t all illegal, uneducated Neanderthals, like a lot of us seem to think. My parents aren’t native-born U.S. citizens, but they never complain about confusing words and sentences in government documents. I, however, do.
That first example paragraph is ridiculously over-complicated. (This paragraph is too, but bear with me.) Complication is not always Intelligence. Sometimes, it’s just the opposite. Yes, it often takes an intelligent person to uncomplicated something complicated, but why complicate something that can be uncomplicated – something everyone and anyone has a right and a duty to understand.
This law doesn’t dumb America down, because for one, I don’t think that we can get any dumber. If any standards need to be raised, they should be in the public schooling system. Secondly, removing words like “shall” should have been done decades ago. It’s modernization, not “declination of American education,” as someone stated before.
The really interesting thing is that most of the comments here contain at least some errors, many quite serious. Mine may well have some, too, though I’d like to think what I’ve written here is not nearly as bad as some!
Look within, people! Lets all strive to improve our own skills!
Beyond this, some of you have offered opinions on whether this law – already passed – should be law, as though it’s still up for debate. It appears to be water already under the bridge!
Lastly, I don’t know who made up those “Before” and “After” paragraphs, but they actually appear to say quite different things. Clearly, changing fundamental meaning cannot be the real intent of this law.
Just because some people are illiterate…
Dear illiterate Americans,
Please practice reading. The original text should be within the grasp of any high school graduate. Anyone who cannot understand it has failed him/herself.
Oh my. I am only 10 years and far too much enjoy speaking the way English was originated. But really? America is falling into the state of idiocy. Not enough education for kids, teachers aren’t being hired, budgets cut. Now the “adults” can’t even their contracts?! Simplifying won’t do much anymore. I even understand the difference between “shall” (this will be done) and “should” (this CAN be done). Oh and there goes the whole “may” and “can” confusion that some teachers are bothering to correct. I also understand how immigrants won’t be able to understand the whole thing and probably prefer simpler versions but this was for government contracts right??? Am I right? Who would hire someone who won’t understand English? This will also discourage Americans to learn more words and utilize them daily. If I walk up to a random person and say, “Good morning. How do you do?” They would reply, “Mornin’! How do I do what?” As you may have noticed: ITS HAPPENING!
I can see that the “after” is much better suited to the people of today, but I do, however, give credit to the “before” because the diction is more polished and professional. I dont know, Im divided on this. Either people’s word choice is not as “poetic” as it used to be or we are a dumb generation. Can anyone agree or disagree?
@Tracie G , Such ignorance is why you are considered stupid, maybe you should study the history of your country, the only ones that are not immigrants are the native americans and why would you wanna follow the “more refined europe” anyways when USA has the potential for prosperity just like any other country, we all have to do our job at helping each other instead of pointing the fingers at immigrants, when we are mostly all immigrants…Disgraceful!!!
this is terrible proof that our society is headed toward idiocracy. if you dont know what it means, look it up!! helloooo this is dictionary.com, the site founded on the idea that everyone should know what every word means if they so desire, its not jargon, its intellectual speech and diction, and to alter that to a dummed down version is embarrassing and insulting, and to anyone who thinks this a good idea is a worthless sheep. i mean, whos to say the government wont decide to change this “strange jargon” from what it was to what they want it to be? if its really so complicated and confusing and the American people are seriously too lazy to look up some words, then we wont know the difference if they do! you cant trust the government until they have proven trustworthy, which they havent. think for yourselves.
aimee is dead on.
I believe the saying goes: “Make something foolproof, and the world will invent a better fool.” Dumbing down English will not help people understand the language, it just gives them an excuse to get even dumber.
Yes, language is a means of communication. If nobody understands the language, it is useless. But written language is not meant only for immediate communication. It allows us to communicate with bygone ages. When we stop needing to understand the legal language that has been used for centuries, we are that much more removed from the concepts which that language helped great minds ponder and express.
A great example of the way language can be simplified and lose meaning is in this article; “should” and “shall.” “Shall” implies a coercive rule, or some sort of obligation, and implies a lack of exception. “Should” does not. If “should” starts to mean “shall,” then everything that somebody thinks you “should” do will turn into something you “shall” do. Or imagine all the things that “shall” be done, that become things that only “should” be (or not be) done.
Por ejemplo, let us assume the founders decided to use “should” instead of “shall” in the Bill of Rights:
Amendment 1: Congress SHOULD make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Now it is a recommendation, not a rule.
The second version is much clearer and simpler to understand for those who are not university graduates in English or newly come to this country..
It would also help if people actually knew the words they’re using. Recently, when quoting “curiouser and curiouser” from Alice in Wonderland here, these forms were called the “superlative” form of “curious.”
Not so. “Curiouser” is an incorrect comparative form of “curious,” i.e. (that is (to say), not “for example”, which is abbreviated e.g.) it compares 2 things/groups. The correct form is more curious. Lewis Carroll used curiouser for effect.
e.g. Are boys generally more curious than girls?
but: He is taller than I am.
The superlative form ends in -est or is formed with most for longer adjectives (generally those of more than one syllable; exception: adjectives ending in -y, e.g., pretty and lazy, but not adverbs like slowly, carefully, quickly.
e.g. Curious George is one of the most curious monkeys alive.
e.g. Cheetahs are among the fastest animals in the world.
I think that laws are deliberately couched in obscure language so that lawyers (among them those in governments of all kinds) can show their erudition before us lesser mortals, and so assure that they will always have more people to take before the courts for not being aware of all these entwined laws
As for shall It comes with the implication of “or else.”:
Shall is (was originally) used as a command or imperative form in English.
I still learned that the following indicate future:
I/we shall do my/our homework.
You will do your work.
he/she/it will do his/her/its work.
They will do their work.
“I/We will do my/our homework.” is an imperative form that means doing it without fail.
You shall do your homework (with the implication “or else.”)
He/she/it shall do his/her/its work. (or else)
They shall do their work. (or else)
I think this has generally been lost, unless it is expressed in a law or prohibition. Anyway, the common use of the ‘ll after most pronouns more or less make the complete form superfluous.
How many of us generally sit down and read a book or even a page of “lawyerese”?
Is this the only type of reading in which we see “intelligent” language. Frankly, I have problems with the unnecessary “heretofore,” “herein,” “subpart,” etc., especially when I get letters from lawyers or their secretaries, in which these and other simpler words are misspelled. I certainly do not count myself as unintelligent or lacking in educated vocabulary–except for some punctuation. In fact, I knew no English until I was almost 8, learned it at school and through my love of reading anything from fiction to astronomy to geology, and history to other sciences, that my vocabulary at 15 (in English) outranked most second-year college students. And I have never stopped learning. I really don’t think that reading wordy, complicated, outmoded texts is necessary for a good vocabulary. Being able to understand what you read, however, is a necessity.
My punctuation is a bit iffy at times because I write and speak 3 languages, which differ quite a bit in punctuation rules. On the other hand, knowing three languages well, and three others somewhat, gives me a better vocabulary in English as well. Unfortunately, I sometimes have my senior moments in which I do have to grope for a word.
I love the fact that you all shut down Tracie G’s reckless and unintelligent position. Cheers!
For my fellow Americans- don’t worry. Our laws and the language used to write them will be pointless before long. First, because the new Americans are becoming so ignorant and socially helpless that they won’t understand anyway, and second because the plutocratic ruling class perpetuates that first condition. This will mean that laws like “The Patriot Act” and such will contain such broad clauses and definitions, that you will be subject to arrest/detention and your possessions and property can be searched or seized without prior notice, warrant, consent, or probable cause. It’s already happening. And it’s not the fault of the democrats, or the republicans. It’s all of them- they keep us divided and feed us terrible news from a trash-fueled media and teach us from underfunded and ever downsized educational programs, all in a concerted effort to keep themselves rich.
So next time you feel like blaming an immigrant, or Obama, or the tooth fairy, remember that you’re only being led farther from the real truth of who is keeping you down.
I like the clarity of the revised, but I don’t want to lose the old completely.
Should does not mean the same thing as shall!
Sergio and others – please do move to England; we could do with more people over here who appreciate the power, richness and capacity of the language.
When you get here, you will find an organisation called the Plain English Campaign (http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/), which has spent thirty years campaigning for clarity in official documents. Measured Voice of Reason would like them. I have to say that most of their work is a good deal better than the example quoted here: they would do away with the word ‘collateral’, for one thing, and to my knowledge they have never made the ignorant and stupid mistake of equating ’shall’ and ’should’. (They tend to replace ’shall’ with ‘must’.)
Part of the problem exposed by the comments is that language has many different functions, and it is neither possible nor appropriate to come up with a universal vernacular that fulfils all those functions. Jargon may be inaccessible to the lay reader, but it is vastly more precise to the specialist. Hence it is perfectly legitimate to have, say, complex and jargon-riddled technical instructions for those who administer benefits or planning law, but plain English guides for the citizen telling them what to expect when they apply for benefits or submit a planning application.
Some concepts just can’t be simplified beyond a certain point. The real danger comes when we try to over-simplify language and end up changing its meaning.
From the other side of the Atlantic: you can see the same trends in Britain, to make language, especially written language, easier to understand. For example, the ‘Plain English’ campaigen (google their website if you’re interested). This is not about ‘immigrants’ or ‘dumbing down’, but about about making information clear and acessible to all. Long and complex sentence structure and obscure jargon and terminology are too often the result of fuzzy thinking, not of a ’superior mind or education’. I want to be able to understand my tax form easily, but I also appreciate the beauty of the language in the 17th Century version of the bible that many people in England still prefer.
“Shall” is not synonymous with “should.” The former is mandatory in its meaning, whereas the latter is suggestive.
The purpose of a government document is to convey information about an idea or a command such as laws, not to impress others with ones language skills. The President is basically the Commander in Chief ordering his troops (the people) in a language that has the 3 Cs (Clear, Concise, and Complete). The “After” example fulfills the Clear and Concise requirements.
If you still find using highly impressive words irresistible, be an author !
many of the points made here concerning the ‘dumbing down’ of language strike me as ridiculous. the tedious jargon used in most bureaucracies is dumber than any simplified form of expression. it is clearly in place strictly to be too difficult and unappealing to actually bother reading. communicating more clearly is hardly less intelligent. only a complete ponce would feel smarter because only a select few people could actually interpret his communiques.
“Should” is a suggestion, whereas “Shall” is an order. Got it?
Shall = DEFINITIVE.
“You shall do the dishes.”
No debate about the subject. NOT wish-washy.
Should = 60/40 MAY
“You should do the dishes”
While directive, should is debatable. Leaves room for wishy-washy excuses.
THE GOVERNMENT SHALL FOLLOW THE LAW AND PROSECUTE WAR CRIMES
THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD FOLLOW THE LAW AND PROSECUTE WAR CRIMES.
“SHALL” is concrete. “SHOULD” leaves room to excuse failure.
I fear our way of life should NOT hinge on wishy-washy Government
Although it less common today to write and speak in this fashion,
can there possibly be any harm in encouraging the comprehension of it?
Stuffy and somewhat ancient? Perhaps. Inaccessible and difficult to understand? Not at all.
The objective should always be raising standards rather than lowering them; which is, unfortunately, increasingly becoming the norm in American culture.
Many of us have found ourselves in situations where a foreign language is being spoken which we are unfamiliar with; (this seems like a decent analogy.)
We could ask for a translation of what is being said. Conversely,
we might take the initiative and learn something about the language itself.
Personally, the latter scenario gives me a greater satisfaction and sense of empowerment; and while, of course, it isn’t a requisite it does have the effect of taking control of the situation rather than feeling like the one placed at a disadvantage.
Knowledge and education have always been the real equalizers
in any society. Possessing and using them will serve to keep each of us relevant; as well as make unneccesary, the perhaps well-intentioned but nonetheless ultimately counterproductive, efforts at the oversimplification of our lives.
Wow, what a load of crap. This is clear proof that the American people have descended into idiocy courtesy of the Public School System. Think about it! Dumbed down high school math classes, a country where most people cannot name half the presidents (and when they try to, they often include Benjamin Franklin), and full of twenty-somethings that love playing video games, but can’t go out and get a job, and expect their parents to do everything for them! Truly revolting.
How stupid can they be? “Shall” can in most circumstances be construed as compulsory, and normally imperative and therefore creating an enforceable duty; whereas “should” is inherently at very least ambiguous,– on its face doing no more than expressing the speaker’s aspiration or commendation or recommendation.
Are the framers of this scheme determined to spread ambiguity everywhere and promote litigation? Plain language is very commendable, but it too requires subtlety and sophistication. Plain language is also a different objective from colloquialism or the folksiness apparent here, or aversion to standard English, especially in a legal context where ambiguity is costly and to be avoided as far as reasonably possible.
@ Max-1: Thank you for commenting that. But then, I suppose it is just another example that despises absolutes for fear of offending someone.
@ Edward Lake: Perhaps you are simply too incompetent to comprehend the true value and meaning of those words which our pathetic and incompetent government has now outlawed.
I can’t help but think this is just another ploy by the “elitists” to persuade the people to give up more control and God given rights on the way to becoming servants of a tyrannical, king-sized federal government. Turn off the “idiot box” and read a book! Read and become experts on America’s founding documents! Far too many voters in this nation can name the last 5 winners on American Idol, yet are clueless on naming 5 Supreme Court Justices let alone the 3 branches of the Federal government. What is so virtuous about being more affable? I appreciate all the explanations posted regarding the differences between “shall and should.” However, I didn’t see what I consider the best illustration of the difference, that being the Ten Commandments.
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Even a 2011 graduate of American government education could explain that has a vastly different meaning than;
you should not murder unborn babies.
you should not have sex outside of marriage.
you should not take what others have worked for.
I often hear people say “you can’t legislate morality” which I strongly disagree with but, we can elect virtuous (not to be confused with someone with values) leaders. In a nation whose government is supposed to be “of the people, for the people and by the people” I suppose this new law makes good sense!
For Maggie. You’re right. You can’t replace one for the other. The meaning will not be the same.
There is a problem with replacing “shall” with “should.”
“Shall” implies that something MUST be done.
“Should” implies that something is a “nice to have”. As an engineer I know that contractors pay attention to anything they “shall” do and ignore anything they “should” do.
I notice others have noticed this too.
I think this law allows everyone to understand things clearly especially for government contracts. This eventually makes people more intelligent and prevents most from being marginalized by hard to understand words. For me, if it makes it easier for people to understand what they need to do, then we should do it. This will also save people time in doing what needs to be done.
The more sophisticated words one can use, the more sophisticated one’s ideas are. If you strip language bare of it’s ten-dollar-words, then we’ll all be intellectually naked.
I LEARNED MANY YEARS AGO THAT A SENTENCE SHOULD NOT CONTAIN OVER 17 WORDS OR IT BECOMES UNREADABLE. IT IS NOT THE WORDS BUT THE LENGTH OF THE SENTENCE THAT IS THE CULPRIT.
Wow, you have a big problem! First you discriminate yourself against the
“more refined and intelligent Europe” says who, I would never think that Europeans are “more refined and intelligent ” Have you ever heard of Dominique Strauss Kahn?
Are you a Native American by chance? What tribe did your ancestors belong to? If your not, I am sure your stock came from those “immigrants” that you seem to have distaste of.
First you hate immigrants, when you came from the stock of immigrants FOR SURE. Then you feel lower than the “more refined and intelligent Europe.”
Boy, you do have a BIG PROBLEM.
But WHY lower the standards? I’d rather keep it in it’s original style.
It might be simpler just to issue all lawyers and politicians a copy of Strunk & White’s Little Book on Grammar. They’ve been advocating clearer writing for nearly a hundred years now, long before the current round of immigrants started coming.
Clear writing has nothing to do with dumbing down our English. It’s all about making sense of what English we do have.
Stupidity is not a condition exclusive to Americans or immigrants. It is, in fact, a worldwide human condition.
That being said, stupid laws are for stupid idiots too, you stupid idiots!
I love you.
“I LEARNED MANY YEARS AGO THAT A SENTENCE SHOULD NOT CONTAIN OVER 17 WORDS OR IT BECOMES UNREADABLE…”
lol, that’s 18.
Charles on May 29, 2011 at 1:41 pm
I can’t help but think this is just another ploy by the “elitists” to persuade the people to give up more control and God given rights on the way to becoming servants of a tyrannical, king-sized federal government.
-The government didn’t dumb people down. They dumbed themselves down when crap like American Idol and Wal-Mart are even allowed to exist in the first place and parents are allowed to sue the schools when they teach science, like evolution.
Turn off the “idiot box” and read a book! Read and become experts on America’s founding documents! Far too many voters in this nation can name the last 5 winners on American Idol, yet are clueless on naming 5 Supreme Court Justices let alone the 3 branches of the Federal government.
-Ahhh! You agree! Big business would never disallow crap like American Idol. But a responsible government sure would.
What is so virtuous about being more affable? I appreciate all the explanations posted regarding the differences between “shall and should.” However, I didn’t see what I consider the best illustration of the difference, that being the Ten Commandments.
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Even a 2011 graduate of American government education could explain that has a vastly different meaning than;
you should not murder unborn babies.
-Or any other life for that matter. Hypocrites like you bend this commandment to suit your needs by attacking the ones who would value actual freedom over ideology. What about the wars? What about poverty? What about the slow deaths people endure because we don’t take care of our own with social programs? What about the mega corporations that deal in death and run the government behind the scenes?
you should not have sex outside of marriage.
you should not take what others have worked for.
-Once again, your vision is limited to only people. What about stealing from the Earth? What about stealing what isn’t yours regardless of whether or not it’s some other persons?
I often hear people say “you can’t legislate morality” which I strongly disagree with but, we can elect virtuous (not to be confused with someone with values) leaders. In a nation whose government is supposed to be “of the people, for the people and by the people” I suppose this new law makes good sense!
-I do agree with you here, but to legislate morality would require government regulations. Certainly big business won’t do it because there is no morality in corporate capitalism. Corporations are clinically diagnosed as severe psychopaths now that they’re considered persons by the supreme court. Ask a psychologist or read about in in the Journal of American Psychiatric Medicine.
Our government has not been for, by, or of the people for some time. We live in a plutocracy, which is ruled and steered behind the scenes by those with money. It’s true, money-power corrupts, and money-power will always be the root of significant evil.
I look forward to the age when we can all live as brothers and sisters, and freely choose to work not for the aquisition of personal power/fame/status; but instead, work for the betterment and fulfillment of our human potential and capacity. We truly have evolved little since we fought other apes for the bananas and respected the ape with the biggest banana the most.
“Should” does NOT mean the same thing as “Shall.”
In business, politics, courts, etc.,words are purposely strung together to influence another’s thoughts and attitudes towards the speaker’s/writer’s agenda. However, if the user picks jargon or unfamiliar terms with the sly effort of confusing the issue to his/her advantage, that will be obvious to the educated and suspect as untrustworthy to the ignorant. Call it human intuition if you will, but you can’t fool all of us, anytime!
Shall is not very hard to understand. Actually it’s not the words that get me, it’s just the sentence structure. If they make the structure of the sentences easier like “You shall not buy a gun if you’re under 18″ then that would be fine. Not that easy, but something closer to it.
This law is horrific! Really, I am ashamed to be part of this country if they bring LAWS (do you need a law for this?) into being for the ‘dumb’ average American. Could they even contemplate that this abomination is an insult to the America. Certainly, I SHALL become a corybantic being over this. Next you’ll see them making laws saying that you can’t print unabridged Charles Dickens.
Just think (I know that’s asking a lot for some people), now with more simply written laws and legal mumbo jumbo we’ll all have more time to watch American Idol and other TV drivel like “Which has been Celebrity Can Dance Best with 40 Hours a Week of Training”. I think it really is sad that the government feels they have to waste taxpayer $$$ to have federal employees make this their focus. I really hate to tell the government this, but the people for whom this dillution is intended to benefit will never read these laws anyway. The rest of us will take the time to research vocabulary we don’t readily know and make a diligent effort to understand the content of anything we read.
Tracy did you mean paid?
How absurd! “Shall” and “should” have completely different meanings from one another!
Regarding the extract; the original may be a little protracted but the replacement is nothing short of linguistic butchery! Why “if you get a payment”? What is wrong with the word “receive?” I know that the example is an extract but the first sentence is lacking information and makes little sense.
Legalese was there for a purpose. It has been used in the same form for generations and a serious amount of case law has built up such that the meaning is simple and understood by both the law makers, the judiciary and the legal fraternity at large. It matters not that we plebeians do not immediately grasp the full and true meaning without reading and re-reading.
Plain language in laws will throw all the case law in the dustbin and open every word up to legal scrutiny and litigation. Guess who will benefit from this process … the very legal fraternity who proposed the change in the first place!
Since when does SHALL mean SHOULD?
“immigrants are plaguing this country.” – Tracie
I don’t think this law has anything to do with immigration.. And also, pairing that quote with “refined and intelligent Europe” gives it a somewhat racist undertone. Oh wait that’s because it is very prejudiced.
But anyway, I think legal/medical statements are useless if they aren’t directly understandable for the majority of people. I don’t necessarily think vocabulary usage is an important measure of intelligence anyway. Critical thinking skills are far more important.
I think the more long-winded versions offer more specifics. Also, the need to simplify government documents for the benefit of the people makes the United States seem like a country of idiots. -_-
I believe that the original documents are easy enough to comprehend and have more precise semantic expression- a necessity for law- than what will become the replacements. If one does not understand a word, then they should look it up, or hire a lawyer. I also mourn over the reduced utilization of words such as “subrogate”, as they are infrequently used (and especially heard) in other contexts.
THE GOVERNMENT WRITES LAWS FOR REASONS BECAUSE HE WANTS ALL OF US TO BE POSITIVE HE WANT US TO BE GOOD BECAUSE IT WILL HELP US MORE BUT I JUST HOPE THAT HE COULD CONSIDER GOOD – MORE STUFF FOR ALL THE PEOPLE.
The myriad comments on this blog — most contradicting and refuting each other — seems to prove that precise language is better. Yes, simpler legal language is easier to read and understand — for a single individual. But interpretation becomes a problem when applied to the public arena (and court system), since its meaning will vary more widely.
@Hamachisn’t: “Perhaps we won’t require expensive lawyers as much to decipher legalese any more.” Actually, less precise legal wording would probably require MORE need for lawyers, as there is more room for interpretation, and thus more legal work to prove specifics, intent, etc. (By the way, simpler legal language is a probably a boon for corporate Defendents in civil suits, since the burden of proof is with the Plaintiff.
I agree with those who said legal writing primarily is for lawyers. (Should a lay person be able to interpret an architectural blueprint? Or understand computer programming language?) However, laws and contracts SHOULD ALSO provide literature that translates the law into understandable points for the lay person.
Legal Disclaimer: The above comments, thoughts, opinions, verbiage, non sequitors and discombobulations shall not be misconstrued, misread, mislabeled, misnomered or mystified, without the written consent of Caveman Lawyer Co. Corp., Inc. (R)(TM)(SM)& Unless you want to.
Not to worry about the “clutter of useless words” in the English language and its inherent illogical nature: it will soon be replaced with the far “superior” corruption of Latin, Spanish (i.e. Espanol). The terrible
beginning segment of the history of the United States (brought about by the “most hideous of humans in human history) will soon be forgotten as we march in jubilation toward the dawn of a new age of a “Greater Mexico” which will carry with it all the noble traditions of fairness, education & democracy associated with the history of our grand neighbor (and rightful owner) south of the vanishing border of the soon-to-be “Ex-United States of America”. Viva Los Estados Unidos Nuevos
Here in Britain we still have this government jargon. I would like it to change, but not as drastically, or possibly, when I get to voting age (I’m only 13) I will understand it. I think that I want it to change mainly because I’m a 13 year old who sticks his face into many ‘adult’ things I’m not supposed to know, or care about (politics, high-level physics – like higgs boson, family trees and newspapers).
[...] not usually quite that simple, though. Here’s one article - from the website dictionary.com – about the Plain Writing Act, which gives some examples [...]
[...] it took a while to catch on, because in 2010, President Barack Obama issued his own Plain Writing Act of 2010, requiring federal agencies to “simplify bureaucratic [...]