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The BUSKLAW March Newsletter: Of Pie and Plain English

I love pie and plain English about equally, although plain English is less fattening. Pie - especially the caramel toffee apple variety - for Thanksgiving is especially grand because afterward, you can eat leftover pie for breakfast without a lot of guilt. And chances are that the rest of the household won't consider pie a suitable breakfast food, so you're good to go. 

Grand Rapids, Michigan, is blessed with an excellent source of pies: Sweetie-licious. Until recently, they had two locations: one in GR's Downtown Market and the other in beautiful East Grand Rapids. I grew up in EGR and still fond of the place. So it was very convenient to journey across town to Sweetie's EGR location to pick up a pie for holidays (or when the pie lust grew to be unbearable).

Because life isn't fair, Sweetie-licious closed its EGR location several months ago. (But mercifully their Downtown Market location is still going strong.) When I sauntered past their empty EGR storefront recently, I noticed the above sign posted on the door. Yikes! The place is haunted by the ghost of bureaucratese, a style of language held to be characteristic of bureaucrats and marked by abstractions, jargon, euphemisms, and circumlocutions. Bureaucratese is the close brother of the legal mumbo jumbo that plagues most contracts. The venerable Kent County Health Department should know better! 

Let's see if we can revise this Notice to be more user-friendly. We'll leave the NOTICE title and the Kent County Health Department "signature" alone and concentrate on the mighty text. How about the following:


This revision accomplishes the same thing as the original gobbledygook in refreshing, easy-to-understand plain-English. Here's a list of the changes and the reason for each:
  • We changed the negative prohibition in favor of a positive command in the active voice.  
  • "Facility" is too vague. Any empty retail space is not a "facility." Why not just call it a "space"?
  • "Shall" is archaic. "Must" is better! 
  • There is no reason for "REMODELED" and "ALTERED." They mean the same thing in this context, so let's ditch "ALTERED." 
  • "ESTABLISHMENT" is just silly! Just change the phrase to say "FOR FOOD SERVICE."
  • I deleted "APPROVD" (sic) because obviously the the Kent County Health Department won't issue a license for operation unless they first approve the construction and remodeling of the space.   
You might wonder why converting this Notice into plain English is a worthy exercise. The reason is because bureaucratese insults the intelligence of the reader and lends false credibility to the government agency behind it. And the last thing we need in this day and age is a government agency - whether federal, state or local - plagued by a credibility gap. So it makes sense for us to call out stupid jargon whenever we come across it, even in our search for pie!  

If you find this post worthwhile, please consider sharing it with your colleagues. The link to this blog is and my website is www.busklaw.comThanks! 


Sandy Cain said…
Just my opinion.....but if lawyers use $10 words, it's awfully hard to justify billing $400/hour. Plain English? Oh, no! Might have to bill only $200/hour!

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