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Data protection watchdog tells staff French and Latin phrases should be phased out

French phrases that were once de rigueur and endlessly used Latin words should be phased out, according to a leading watchdog.

The Office of the Information Commissioner has asked staff to change their modus operandi for fear of confusing the minds of the general public.

It’s not that the phrases are problematic per se, but rather that the organization fears they are “alienating” because many don’t understand what they mean.

The ICO, which is responsible for the operation of freedom of information legislation and data protection laws, has published a style guide for its full-time and part-time staff.

French phrases that were once de rigueur and endlessly used Latin words should be phased out, a leading watchdog says (file image)

He states: ‘English has embraced thousands of words from other languages, including bungalow, cliche, graffiti, kiosk and ombudsman. But some words of foreign origin are so rare that they confuse or alienate our readers.

In particular, the guide warns staff not to use Latin words and phrases, including quid pro quo and ergo, because “few people have studied Latin”.

The council split opinion, with Julian Fellowes, the Oscar-winning creator of Downton Abbey, suggesting he’s ‘infantilising the British people’ and adding: ‘The idea that it’s morally right to make absolutely no demands on anyone either, whether intellectually or emotionally, is pernicious and only widens the gap between the privileged and the less privileged.

A copy of the guide was obtained by The Mail on Sunday through a freedom of information request. Under “Avoiding Foreign Words,” it lists 16 Latin phrases to avoid, as well as several French phrases, including en route.

The study of Latin is not widespread in the public education sector. Figures produced by the British Council in 2020 showed it was taught at Key Stage 3 level (ages 11-14) in just 2.7% of state schools, compared to 49% of private schools.

However, ministers last year announced a £4million Latin Excellence program to boost teaching of the subject in comprehensive schools.

Reflecting on his upbringing in Australia, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC said: ‘I studied Latin for five years at school, in the belief that it would help me in a legal career. He does not have. But at least that made me discover the erotic poetry of Catullus.

Lee Monks, from the group Plain English Campaign, said: 'If a decision has been made to replace said terms with plain English alternatives, we would obviously welcome that (file image)

Lee Monks, from the group Plain English Campaign, said: ‘If a decision has been made to replace said terms with plain English alternatives, we would obviously welcome that (file image)

‘I even studied Roman law at university, but there’s not much call these days for legal advice on how to manumit [free] a slave. Some Latin phrases are so well known that we should stop italicizing them and accept them as part of our language. If not, they should never be pronounced in court.

The guide, which has been in use for a few years, has more obscure terms including a priori (based on what we know), sine qua non (an essential condition) and among others (among others).

Lee Monks, from the Plain English Campaign group, said: “If an initiative has been launched to replace said terms with plain English alternatives, we would obviously welcome it.

“If staff members are confused about the use of a term and feel uncomfortable adopting it, it is much better if they are able to use simpler language. Although it is reasonable to point out that terms such as en route and per se are much less likely to cause problems than inter alia or ex officio.

An ICO spokesperson said, “We avoid using foreign words in our writing because some words are rare and can alienate our readers. The purpose of the style guide is to ensure that our written communications are clear, easy to follow, and accessible to all ICO audiences.

I thought in loco parentis* meant “my father is a locomotive engineer”. But I love the variety of our language

BY GYLES BRANDRETH WRITER, TV PRESENTER AND COUNTDOWN DICTIONARY CORNER VETERAN FOR THE SUNDAY MAIL

We were taught Latin at school, but I didn’t learn much. For years, I thought ‘in loco parentis’ meant ‘my father is a locomotive engineer’.

That said, I love the richness and diversity of the English language, which includes words borrowed and adapted from every language under the sun.

American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson described the English language as a great river into which so many tributaries flowed. Among these tributaries are French, Latin, Greek, Indian, Icelandic and German. It is this variety that makes our language so rich, and some of the words and phrases we are encouraged to avoid are there simply because they express something clearly. Vis-à-vis, for example, now means something a little different from its literal translation of face-to-face. You can find an English wording that avoids using the French phrase, but you can also ask people to consider and make these “foreign” phrases their own.

We were taught Latin at school, but I didn't learn much.  For years I thought 'in loco parentis' meant 'my father is a machine operator' (File imafge)

We were taught Latin at school, but I didn’t learn much. For years I thought ‘in loco parentis’ meant ‘my father is a machine operator’ (File imafge)

We want to be inclusive and we don’t want to alienate anyone, but our language is international and some of those Latin tags and so-called foreign expressions are helpful.

Everyone knows what a resume is. I think it’s interesting that the letters represent the resume, and I don’t know how useful it is to substitute something else for the resume.

I’m all for people increasing, not decreasing, their vocabulary. Yes, we want people to be able to understand each other, but I am rather against banning anything.

The great Dr. Samuel Johnson wanted to stop using the word bamboozle, and it’s one of my favorite words. So rather than banning words and phrases, let’s teach people what they mean and how to use them.

*For readers who may have dozed off in the strange Latin lesson, in loco parentis means “in place of a parent,” like the duty of care a teacher owes to a student.