Bona fide Plain English the status quo

Declaring war on “elitist” and “discriminatory” bureaucratic language, the councillors in Bournemouth, England, has ordered borough workers to replace Latin phrases in official documents and correspondence with plain, everyday phrases.

The British press is outraged that the Bournemouth Borough Council (Latin motto: Pulchritudo et Salubritas — beauty and health) singles out 19 Latin words or phrases (such as bona fide, status quo, ad hoc, vice versa) and suggests alternative wording.

“Not everyone knows Latin,” the council told its staff. “Many readers do not have English as their first language so using Latin can be particularly difficult.”

The councils of Salisbury and Fife also have directed their teams not to use certain Latinate phrases.

Dismayed scholars say the Bournemouth ban dilutes the world’s richest language. One denounced it in very plain, colorful English.

“This is absolute bonkers and the linguistic equivalent of ethnic cleansing,” said Mary Beard, a professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge. “English is and always has been a language full of foreign words. It has never been an ethnically pure language.”

The Daily Mail offers a plea for common sense: “Si fractum non sit, noli id reficere (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!)”

I disagree with the Daily Mail.  People often only use these words to make themselves feel important.  And, particularly in a business context, if people don’t understand your meaning, it takes time (and costs money) to decode your language.

So, which phrases are to be avoided and substituted?

  • ad hoc — for this special purpose, improvised
  • ad lib, ad libitum — impromptu, shortened, to fill up time
  • bona fide — in good faith, genuine
  • e.g. (exempli gratia) — for example, such as
  • etc. (et cetera) — and so on
  • i.e. (id est) — that is
  • inter alia — among other things, as well as
  • NB (nota bene) — please note, this is important
  • per — each, a
  • per se — for itself, by itself, as such
  • prima facie — at first sight
  • pro rata — in proportion
  • pro tem — for the time being
  • quid pro quo — equivalent, give or take
  • status quo — existing condition, state of things
  • vice versa — the other way round
  • via — by way of, through
  • viz (videlicet) — that is to say, namely
  • vis-a-vis — in relation to