In this month’s Waitrose Food Illustrated (we have TWO of them in Edinburgh now, oh yes) the founder of the Plain English Campaign, Chrissie Maher attacks “menu-speak”. She claims that words such as “carpaccio”, “velouté” or “blanquette” are used as part of a game called Humiliate the Consumers whereby restaurant customers are made to feel inferior, stupid and reluctant to ask questions. A “blanquette”, she claims, is really only stew. Well, yes it is but it’s a very particular type of stew and if you’re expecting beef and mushrooms in Guinness, you’re going to be disappointed. She even objects to the word “menu” itself, deriding it as a “Frenchification” of “bill of fare”. How, I wonder does she suggest we should should refer to to the lists of options presented to us daily by our computers, phones and DVD players? Perhaps as just that, lists of options?
I’m broadly sympathetic to the aims of the Plain English Campaign, but I don’t understand why it insists on limiting vocabulary in this way. Come across a word you don’t recognise? Why not look it up in this wonderful invention, a dictionary? Found it? Good, now you’ve learnt something new and expanded your vocabulary to boot! This isolationist approach to English denies the influence of languages on one another. Words with Latin, Old French or Norse roots are historical artefacts, not code dreamt up by bureaucrats to oppress the masses.
For example, I’m not sure what:
“We are pleased to announce Drivel Defence, a software package that will help you to check the use of Plain English!
means (well, the “enabled in your browser” bit anyway) but I’m willing to look it up rather than to scent an establishment plot.
This all sounds a bit like a linguistic equivalent of “I want proper, English food, none of that foreign muck!” doesn’t it?