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!

Please note: Drivel Defence uses JavaScript to run, so you will need to have this enabled in your browser. Click on the link below to check your settings.” (Campaign for Plain English website)

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?

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11 Responses to Chippy

  1. Mr D says:

    Yes, it does.

    You now have two copies of this month’s Waitrose Food Illustrated in Edinburgh? Way to save those trees from being chopped down! 😉

    (Sorry – there’s an evil pedant within me. Do you think this woman would disapprove of the word ‘pedant’?)

  2. Sylvia says:

    I’d better dig my copy out and actually read it! I just look at the pictures in a daze and fling it into the magazine rack before it ends up in the recycling.

  3. marshaklein says:

    Mr D: D’oh! I walked into that, didn’t I? Very sloppy. I’m sure she would disapprove of “pedant” – always assuming she doesn’t think it’s someone who preys on innocent children!

    Sylvia: Me too, usually. This article caught my eye by chance. I was fizzing by the end of it.

  4. BiB says:

    Darling, you mustn’t do any enabling. It’s something to do with Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 steps. If you admit to enabling anyone’s drivel, they’ll be tippexing you out of their address books in no time. Just say no!

  5. Mangonel says:

    We’re getting as bad as them Frogs – what on earth is wrong with calling a weekend ‘un weekend’? And a picnic ‘un piquenique’?

  6. patroclus says:

    Yes, I’d like to see the Plain English Campaign campaign square up against the Académie Francaise (sorry don’t know how to make a c cedilla) on either side of the Channel and lob croissants and bifteck at each other.

    And people complain about how we don’t speak any foreign languages in this country. It’s thanks to buffoons like the Plain English Campaign that this poor chap has had to abandon his endeavours (*stifles giggle at ‘poor chap’*).

  7. patroclus says:

    Too many ‘campaign’s there, sorry.

  8. Mangonel says:

    Patroclus, ALT-135. ç.

  9. patroclus says:

    Thanks Mangonel!

  10. marshaklein says:

    BiB: I’m not sure I entirely understood your comment, but it made me laugh!

    Patroclus: That conjures up some pleasingly Pythonesque images:-

    “Launchez la vache!”
    “Steady on now, that there’s the roast beef of Olde England!”

    The Plain English Campaign: the linguistic Flat Earth Society

  11. Lisa Later says:


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