UK councils: no Latin lovers

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Nov 4 16:10:31 UTC 2008

UK councils: no Latin lovers

By JILL LAWLESS – 19 hours ago

LONDON (AP) — It's a bona fide scandal. Britain's Latin and Greek
aficionados are outraged at a decision by some local councils to veto
the use of Latin words and phrases — including bona fide, ad lib, et
cetera and e.g. — in official documents. The councils say Latin is no
longer widely understood. But classicists say axing Latin phrases is
an attack on the foundations of English — the linguistic equivalent of
"ethnic cleansing."

"Think of the number of words from Latin that are now part of the
English language: alias, alibi, exit, terminus," said Peter Jones, a
retired professor of classics at the University of Newcastle and
founder of Friends of Classics. "Are they going to cut out those
words?" "The English language is a hybrid animal that has adopted any
number of words and phrases from other languages which have become a
part of English," he added. "To deny the hybrid nature of the English
language is almost like ethnic cleansing of English."

The council in Bournemouth, a town of 170,000 on England's south
coast, has a "plain language" policy that lists 19 Latin words and
phrases to be avoided, and suggests replacements. The council
recommends "improvised" instead of ad hoc, and "genuine" for bona

Salisbury City Council in southern England also advises staff to avoid
ad hoc and et cetera, as well as French phrases like "in lieu" and
"fait accompli."

British local authorities have been under pressure from their umbrella
body, the Local Government Association, and others to cut their use of
jargon and confusing language.

The Plain English Campaign, which has been fighting official jargon
for three decades, said a majority of councils had adopted some form
of plain-speaking guidelines, although few appear to have gone as far
as Bournemouth in eliminating Latin.

The campaign said it supported the council's policy.

"We are talking about public documents where people need to read,
understand and take action that may affect their lives," spokeswoman
Marie Clair said Monday. "This is information that everybody needs to
know about, regardless of their level of education."

Latin and ancient Greek were once considered the cornerstones of a
first-class education. But the languages are no longer widely taught
in Britain. Friends of Classics says Latin is taught in only 15
percent of state schools — a modest increase from a few years ago.

But Latin's backers say thousands of common English words have Latin
roots, and argue the replacement phrases can be even more difficult to
understand. To some ears "existing condition" is less harmonious than
"status quo," and "the other way round" less snappy than "vice versa."

No one from the Bournemouth council was willing to speak to The
Associated Press on Monday, but a spokeswoman said the language
guidelines have been in effect for two years without attracting

Despite the policy, the town retains a Latin motto on its crest:
"Pulchritudo et salubritas" — beauty and health.

Linguistic controversies are nothing new in Britain, cradle of the
English language, where people have strong opinions on what
constitutes proper usage.

In recent years officials have moved to avoid language that gives
offense to ethnic minorities, disabled people and other groups.

Predictably, some feel the drive has gone too far. Many were bemused
earlier this year when it was reported that a town council had banned
the word "brainstorm" because it might offend people with epilepsy, a
condition that involves periodic electrical storms inside the brain.
Tunbridge Wells council advised using "thought showers" instead.

London's Harrow Council says banning Latin is a step too far.

"I would have thought banning phrases which have been part of the
texture of our language for centuries is frankly the least of a town
hall's problems when it comes to communicating with the public," said
Paul Osborn, the council's head of communications.

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