Two years ago, the Internal Revenue Service issued tax forms written so any 12th-grader could understand them.
That didn't work.
So this year, the service went back to basics and came up with a new set of tax instructions that's supposed to be a breeze even for eighth-graders.
For instance, you'll no longer find the words "pursuant to" in your 1040s. The IRS has reserved them just for legal memos tax agents write to one another. In their place you'll see "under."
All "subsequents" have been translated to "laters," "notification" has shrunk to "notice," every "exclusively" is now only an "only," and all "aggregates" add up simply to "totals."
Also, in place of all those references to the impersonal "individual" that used to turn up in your tax form, you'll discover the "you" -- in case you never realized that's who the IRS was talking about.
Such language lightening is intended to take some of the verbal confusion out of filling out your tax forms. It's also meant to cut down on the millions of mistakes made in filings every year.
"The object is to get more people to do their own forms," said a spokesman for the IRS.
According to a tax form study done by the General Accounting Office last year, the average reading level of the U.S. population scores at the eighth-grade mark. GAO recommended that the standard tax forms be rewritten so that most Americans could understand them.
The tax agency had already begun to do this, but, to speed the process along, it hired a "readability expert" and started applying several scientific formulas as to what should and shouldn't be easy for an eighth-grader to read.
"We made up a list of familiar words to use," one tax official said. "We stressed words with few syllables and short sentences."
In addition to simpler language, 1978 tax forms also have irregular right margins, accented subparagraphs and more white space than previous forms. All these things are also supposed to help.
But government tax experts aren't satisfied. "We're going to keep trying to reduce the reading level," the official said. "I don't know how far we can go down."
To this end, the IRS has programmed a computer to measure the reading level of tax forms. The computer has been asked to report any words or phrases that a sixth-grader would not understand.
Some of the words pulled out by the computer are spouse, taxpayer, itemize, deduction, exemption, schedule, refund, Social Security and Internal Revenue Service.
The list has left tax form writers perplexed. "I don't know how you get rid of some of these," one said.
It's still too early, IRS agents say, to know whether their simplifying efforts are having the desired effect. Government figures show that a greater percentage of taxpayers prepared their own tax returns last year over the year before (50 percent versus 43 percent), and that the error rate dropped (from 10.3 percent to 5.6 percent).
But officials could not say how much of this was due to easier-to-read tax forms and how much to the introduction of the shorter 1040A tax form.