Annual Foot In Mouth Awards
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been awarded the “Foot in Mouth” prize by Britain’s Plain English Campaign for the most baffling comment by a public figure in the past year. The Campaign is an independent group of some 3,500 members who advocate for clear, easily understood English in public statements and documents.
Each year the campaign gives awards to examples of clear and well-constructed prose, but they also give two awards, the Foot in Mouth and Golden Bull, for impenetrable prose.
Rumsfeld won the award for the following statement, made in a February 2002 news briefing:
Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
Plain English Campaign spokesman John Lister said, “We think we know what he means. But we don’t know if we really know...”
Rumsfeld narrowly beat newly inaugurated California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (“I think that gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman.”) and former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten (“Having committed political suicide, the Conservative Party is now living to regret it.”)
Last year’s winner was actor Richard Gere for the following statement: “I know who I am. No one else knows who I am. If I was a giraffe and somebody said I was a snake, I’d think ‘No, actually I am a giraffe.”
There were eight different winners of the 2003 Golden Bull Award for the “year’s worst gobbledygook.”
In response to a question asking whether or not they still sold blank CDs, Jungle.com replied, “We are currently in the process of consolidating our product range to ensure that the products that we stock are indicative of our brand aspirations. As part of our range consolidation we have also decided to revisit our supplier list and employ a more intelligent system for stock acquisition. As a result of the above certain product lines are now unavailable through jungle.com, whilst potentially remaining available from more mainstream suppliers.” (Interpretation: “No.”)
In an apology for dispensing a wrong prescription, Lloyd’s Pharmacy replied, “The cognitive process that staff will go through when interpreting prescriptions and selecting drugs is almost intuitive in that the prescription will be read, a decision is then made in the mind of the individual concerned, they will then make a selection based on what they have decided. When an error is made either mentally or in the physical selection process it is difficult for the individual concerned to detect their own error because in their own mind they have made the correct selection.” (Interpretation: “We made an error.”)
On a label for Roast Chicken Salad, department store Marks & Spencer wrote, “Now With Roast Chicken,” prompting patrons to wonder what had been in it before.
Dishwasher manufacturer SMEG included the following in one of their instruction books:
- “At this point you must press contemporary the P1+P2 buttons and then you will see that the first 3 pilot light programs will lid up.’
- “during this phase the writing ‘Time to end’ flashes up.’
- “This allows to make function the dishwasher at the time you want. By pressing one after the oter button DELAY PROGRAM (5), it will be seen on the display the vizualisation of delay hours numbers in which you want to make start the machine from 12 hours onward.’
- “The display will be turned on with a vizualisation that will depend on the state of the dishwasher.’
- “By pressing the relative button of desired program (see table) it will lid up the relative pilot light to confirm that the operation did occurred on the DISPLAY (9) will appear a program duration forecasting (’h.mm’).”
In the company’s defense, SMEG spokeswoman Pauline Dewhurst replied, “SMEG UK is aware that any instruction book, however well written, is often the last point of reference when getting used to a new machine. For this reason we have produced a set of ‘Quick Start Guides’ to assist customers who are moving into new properties with several new products to get used to.” (Interpretation: “Who cares what the instruction book says? No one reads them anyway.”)
The Social Fund’s regulations for maternity and funeral expenses contained the following impenetrable statements:
For the purposes of these Regulations, a person shall be treated as a member of a polygamous relationship where, but for the fact that the relationship includes more than two persons, he would be one of a married or unmarried couple. (Interpretation: For purposes of these Regulations, persons involved in a polygamous relationship shall be treated as if they were married.)
In these Regulations, unless the context otherwise requires, any reference to a numbered regulation is a reference to the regulation bearing that number in these regulations and any reference in a regulation to a numbered paragraph is a reference to the paragraph of that regulation bearing that number.” (Interpretation: “Numbered references are self explanatory.”)
Standard Life wrote a trust deed that included the following clause:
‘THE SETTLER HEREBY ASSIGNS unto the Original Trustees who, by their execution hereof accept the position of trustees, each of the policy or policies, particulars whereof are set out in the Schedule hereto, and the monies assured thereby and all other monies which may become payable in respect of the said policy or policies of assurance BUT ALWAYS EXCLUDING any policy or policies which may constitute a Protected Rights Fund of the Standard Life Appropriate Personal Pension Scheme or the Standard Life Stakeholder Pension Scheme (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Policies’) to hold the same unto the Original Trustees upon the irrevocable trusts hereinafter declared concerning the same.
Warburtons Bakers included the following in an advertisement:
With a launch burst of 550 TVRs—and £34m in ‘premiumisation’ opportunities—we’re confident you’ll rise to the challenge. (Interpretation: ???)
Finally, Yousef El-Deiry wrote the following for an article in JMC airline’s Intercom magazine:
As we enter the last third of the summer season, we are faced with a period of operation, which is historically characterised by pre-maturity, both in terms of psychological wind-down and shedding of temporary staff.
‘Once bitten, twice shy,’ and history shows that our bridges can so easily be burnt and the strength of current position lost, if we allow this malice to gather momentum.
The irony is that, it is in the latter stages of a race or championship that fortunes are made or lost, and where heroes are born or die, and we should be in no doubt that; ‘it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.’
You’ll forgive the poetic license of my political incorrectness in using this old adage, but it’s a poignant reminder to be cautious, since there is a real danger that our lines of defence will weaken, as our supply chain fades away with a dilution of resources, vigour and will.
However, there is a positive spin to this dilemma, from which all of us can draw strength and inspiration.
The approach, which I wish to advocate to all our ground team, is to look at the last third of the season as a ‘light at the end of the tunnel,’ the long sought-after jewel in the crown, remaining resolute to sprint to victory.
We must never doubt the difference that we can make in controlling and shaping our own destiny, which for me boils down to one fundamental question, namely leadership’ I am a firm believer that the most effective and motivating form of leadership is that by example.
Hence why I now look to our management team throughout the UK Airports, as I know our ground team will be, to lead from the front and carry the operation through to the end.
The months of September and October are vital to us securing our ground handling and on-time targets, and we must see this through to the end with conviction and pride.
Through these final stages of the race, there will never be more of a need to unite the team and draw on each other’s strength, in order to control suppliers and facilities alike, and keep the programme running smoothly.
This is ground force in its purest form, so rally the troops and show that we are a force to be reckoned with.
At least El-Deiry was good natured about winning the award, commenting, “I was told the cliches in my article were as plain as the nose on my face, but it all looked like Queen’s English to me.
More information on the Plain English Campaign and awards from past years can be found at http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton