When it comes to propagating gobbledygook, lawyers are some of the worst offenders. In an earlier entry we mentioned that the legal profession’s love of confusing, convoluted language is hindering federal agencies in their attempts to implement the Plain Writing Act. When a reader sent us this impressive example of one agency’s “fog of legalese” we couldn’t resist the idea of rewriting it in plain language and then comparing it with the original.
Before: A federal agency policy’s “fog of legalese”
This is the original policy, posted on a federal agency’s web site.
§604. Post mortem examination of carcasses and marking or labeling; destruction of carcasses condemned; reinspection.
For the purposes hereinbefore set forth the Secretary shall cause to be made by inspectors appointed for that purpose a post mortem examination and inspection of the carcasses and parts thereof of all cattle, sheep, swine, goats, horses, mules, and other equines to be prepared at any slaughtering, meat-canning, salting, packing, rendering, or similar establishment in any State, Territory, or the District of Columbia as articles of commerce which are capable of use as human food; and the carcasses and parts thereof of all such animals found to be not adulterated shall be marked, stamped, tagged, or labeled as ''Inspected and passed''; and said inspectors shall label, mark, stamp, or tag as ''Inspected and condemned'' all carcasses and parts thereof of animals found to be adulterated; and all carcasses and parts thereof thus inspected and condemned shall be destroyed for food purposes by the said establishment in the presence of an inspector, and the Secretary may remove inspectors from any such establishment which fails to so destroy any such condemned carcass or part thereof, and said inspectors, after said first inspection, shall, when they deem it necessary, reinspect said carcasses or parts thereof to determine whether since the first inspection the same have become adulterated, and if any carcass or any part thereof shall, upon examination and inspection subsequent to the first examination and inspection, be found to be adulterated, it shall be destroyed for food purposes by the said establishment in the presence of an inspector, and the Secretary may remove inspectors from any establishment which fails to so destroy any such condemned carcass or part thereof.
After: made clear with plain language
Here’s the policy again, rewritten in plain language.
Requirements for inspection of meat
USDA inspectors must
- inspect meat at any business within the USA preparing the meat of cattle, sheep, swine, goats and/or equines for human consumption
- label or tag it as “Inspected and passed” or “Inspected and condemned”
- reinspect meat when they believe it is necessary.
Businesses must destroy condemned meat in the presence of an inspector. Failure to comply will result in removal of inspectors.
Which one works better?
Believe it or not, these policy statements contain the same information. If you’re skeptical, read the original version again, carefully. You’ll probably need to go over it a few times, thanks to its arcane language and antiquated writing style, as well as its redundancy. The information is the same, even though the original is 283 words long, nearly four times the length of our 72 word revision.
Which version works better? Which of the two would support a reader seeking to understand the agency’s policies? Which would lead to fewer questions and improve compliance? In our opinion, there’s no contest. The summer barbecue season is getting under way, and we buy steaks, chops and sausages for our grill nearly every weekend. We’ll take the short, easily understood revision, every time.
Which version do you prefer? Have you found another piece of legalese gobbledygook that you’d like to see translated into plain language? Share it with us and we’ll feature it here.