Government Latin ban

The Government has taken the surprising step of banning Latin abbreviations from its websites.

So e.g., i.e. and etc will all soon be booted off GOV.UK pages, apparently because foreign readers find them ‘difficult to read’. A spokesman said the phrases could even confuse English speakers who were ‘under stress or in a hurry’.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) also highlighted the need to more fully follow ‘plain English’ principles.

GDS content manager Persis Howe said, "We promote the use of plain English on GOV.UK. We advocate simple, clear language. Terms like e.g., i.e. and etc, while common, make reading difficult for some.

"Anyone who didn’t grow up speaking English may not be familiar with them. Even those with high literacy levels can be thrown if they are reading under stress or are in a hurry – like a lot of people are on the web."

Howe also rightly mentioned that programs reading such content for visually impaired people also fail to properly indicate Latin abbreviations.

"We’ve found that several programs that read web pages for those with visual impairment read ‘e.g.’ incorrectly, so we’re updating the style guide."

Not everyone was keen on the move, with some describing the Government’s decision to drop Latin terms as ‘short-sighted’.

Roger Wemyss Brooks of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales was predictably unhappy.

He said, "Latin is part of our cultural heritage and it’s part of the basis of English. It unites us with other cultures throughout Europe and the world who have a connection with the Romance languages."

It’s only fair to point out that Government communication has always made unnecessary use of arcane legal terms. And there are many other commonly-used Latin phrases that form part of everyday English, such as vice versa, pro rata, per se and ad hoc. Will the Government also stop using those?

We always suggest that writers remove Latin terms from all their text, particularly web text. Using such terms can suggest laziness and insincerity, and there’s never a justifiable reason to use them rather than clearer alternatives. And as mentioned, they’re certainly not helpful to visually impaired people. For numerous reasons, then, the Government decision is to be welcomed.

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