Austrians have griped for years about excessive legalese -- a muddy maze of "herebys," "wherefores" and "pursuant tos" that can make phone bills or tax letters read like a will.
Now help is coming from an unexpected quarter: the bureaucrats themselves. Besieged by complaints, Vienna's city hall has produced a new manual meant to help its clerks write in simple, uncluttered German.
Six municipal departments teamed up for the campaign, dubbed "Vienna Speaks Plainly." They've vowed to hold one another accountable for windy, archaic phrasing in letters and official forms.
"Dusty office German has to be replaced with language that's understandable," the campaign said recently in a statement promoting the new manual. In plain, simple language, the guide offers instructions to bureaucrats for letters, e-mails and even telephone conversations with constituents.
Legalese is legendary in Austria, where even educated people confronted by a convoluted public notice concede they don't have a clue.
"It's really terrible," said Roland Machek, a businessman who's tired of puzzling over the legalese in his mailbox.
"They use very old-fashioned words that our grandfathers used -- and often very specific terms that you don't normally use in everyday life," he said. "It's been a tradition in Austria since the emperor's time. They loved to create an exclusive fraternity that shut out everyone else. It's ridiculous, and it has to be changed."
Austrians have struggled for decades to keep things simple.
Waltraud Rumpel, a city hall spokesman, offered this stilted phrase -- from an official notice to an Austrian citizen applying for a license to marry a foreigner -- as an example of the kind of dense mumbo-jumbo that's got to stop:
"It is herewith asked to pass on the letter, which arrived here from the wedding registrar's office, to the aforementioned competent official with the request for a translation."
"Our colleagues need to use informal, everyday-life language," Rumpel said. "When the Viennese get information from the city, they should be able to understand it the first time they read it."
To produce the manual, a panel of 100 citizens examined standard letters and forms used in Vienna and made suggestions on how to boil down sentences to their essence.
The campaign even set up a telephone hotline for complaints about legalese.
Other countries long have crusaded against the practice.
The European Union has instructed its bureaucrats to be less verbose, warning that unnecessarily long documents risked creating a translation backlog of hundreds of thousands of pages following the May 1 entry of 10 new member countries.
Britain's Plain English Campaign gives out two dubious honors each year: the "Foot in Mouth" award, for the most baffling statement by a public figure, and the "Golden Bull" award, which takes aim at companies that confuse consumers with hard-to-read user manuals studded with "gobbledygook."
U.S. efforts to stamp out legalese got a big boost in 1998, when President Bill Clinton ordered the use of common, everyday words in federal documents that explain how to get a benefit or service or how to comply with an agency requirement.
Even so, a study last year concluded that most Americans who participate in medical studies don't understand the patient consent forms they're asked to sign because the documents are written in such complex language.