We can thank Al Gore for the first of The Style Invitational’s “Plain English” contest: Back in 1998, the vice president had called for all government documents to be written in “plain language.” The Veep was talking about using simpler, clearer wording for regulations, tax instructions, etc. He cited the example of this regulation for building exits:

Before: “Ways of exit access and the doors to exits to which they lead shall be so designed and arranged as to be clearly recognizable as such.”

Plain language: An exit door must be free of signs or decorations that obscure its visibility.”

“But even that version troubled Gore,” according to The Washington Post, who then suggested: “Don’t put up anything that makes it harder to see the exit door.”

But in Week 342 (2000) The Czar of The Style Invitational, of course, wasn’t asking for readers to offer up usefully concise rewording. He was looking for snark, for a cynical (or at least wry) translation of mind-numbing bureaucratese, fact-concealing spin, or just polite euphemism. And that’s what I’m looking for as well 21 years later in this week’s contest, Week 1447. And as you’ll see from these selections from Week 342 and some later Plain English contests, sometimes the “translation” was more of a wry comment. That’s okay — we’re just looking for the funny.

Fourth Runner-Up: Original: “We hope this will be the first of many such ventures. The internationalization of baseball has begun.” —Commissioner Bud Selig, on Major League Baseball opening its regular season in Japan.

Plain English version: “We’ll put a team in Ulan Bator before the D.C. area sees one again.” (Bruce W. Alter, Fairfax Station; Elliott Jaffa, Arlington) [The Washington Nationals debuted five years later.]

Third Runner-Up: “I’m not proposing tax relief because it’s the popular thing to do, I’m proposing it because it’s the right thing to do.” —George W. Bush.

Plain English version: “I’m proposing it because it’s a right popular thing to do.” (Jennifer Hart, Arlington)

Second Runner-Up: “I am okay. I am capable. There is no one exactly like me.” —Students reciting a motivational pledge in a high school self-esteem class in Charlotte.

Plain English version: “I am okay. I am capable. There is no one exactly like me aside from the 20 other people saying the same thing.” (James Pierce, Charlottesville)

First Runner-Up: “We need a change. A cold brain means sober calculations.” —Oleg Makeyev, a Russian voter, on the icy personality of Boris Yeltsin’s successor.

Plain English version: “We need a change. A sober brain means sober calculations.” (David Genser, Arlington) [Yeltsin was a well-documented drunk.]

And the winner of the U.S.S.R. tour books: “It feels like nothing, actually.” —Cybermagnate Michael Saylor, on what it’s like to lose more than a billion dollars in one day of stock reversals.

Plain English version: “I can’t feel my legs. I can’t feel my legs!” (Martin Bredeck, Community, Va.)

Selected honorable mentions:

“This era does not reward people who struggle in vain to redraw borders with blood.” —President Clinton, on Pakistani TV. Plain English version: “This era only rewards people who successfully redraw borders with blood.” (Beth Baniszewski, Columbia)

“We need to seize the moment available to us to set down themes for the election.” —Karl Rove, political strategist for George W. Bush. Plain English version: “We need to think up some themes quick.” (Jennifer Hart, Arlington; Mike Genz, La Plata)

“Bush must reposition the issue environment.” — A Gore spokesman on the weakness of a tax cut as an issue for Bush. Plain English version: “Yes, I know my guy has called for a return to plain English, but old habits die hard.” (Mike Genz, La Plata; Russell Beland, Springfield)


For some reason, I waited till 2007 to run this contest again. The winner of Week 729 is one of the examples for this week’s contest; here are some others. Full results here, below that week’s new contest.

Report from Week 729 … A bunch of entries cited one or another verbose BS-ervation (meant to assure the populace about progress in Iraq, security measures, etc., and translated it as “We’re doomed.”

4. (Job posting) The mission of the Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO) is to enhance the financial stability, accountability and integrity of the Government of the District of Columbia.

Plain English Version: Good morning, Mr. Phelps … (Brendan Beary, Great Mills)

3. “It was the one of the most different halves of football I’ve ever been around.” PE: “It’s too soon after the game for me to talk good again yet.” (Russell Beland, Springfield)

2. the winner of the stationery made of Panda Poo paper: “Our overall evaluation is that real progress has been achieved,” Jones told the senators, and then he qualified that judgment with words such as “uneven,” “unsatisfactory,” “overly sectarian” and “failed.” PE: “After uneven, unsatisfactory and overly sectarian progress, our overall evaluation is that failure has been achieved.” (Kevin Dopart, Washington)

Selected honorable mentions:


“And — let’s be honest here — " PE: “And — let me sugarcoat this a little less than usual — " (Russell Beland, Springfield)

“To the extent that we can move quickly to denuclearization, we can move quickly to normalization.” PE: “This damn well better work.” (the late, great Mae Scanlan)

Photos become property of The Washington Post, which may edit, publish, distribute or republish them in any form. PE: We can Photoshop you right out of your skivvies. (Brendan Beary)

Complete auto care starts with our $17.99 oil change. PE: For only $17.99, we’ll tell you that you need new shocks, struts, brakes, exhaust system, valve cover gaskets, water pump, CV joints, wiper blades and, of course, tires. (Russ Taylor)

The winner of the Inker: Sentence in The Post: “The positions the Obama administration is taking today are not the traditional positions of most Democrats.” Plain English: They’re trying out alternatives to “fetal.” (Danny Bravman, Chicago)

2 the winner of the turkey carcass hat: “If you are out and about in a kilt, then remember to show some decorum.” PE: And decorum is the only thing you’d better be showing. (Dion Black, Washington)

3 “Our biggest sweater sale of the year!” PE: “Nobody bought our sweaters!” (Dave Prevar, Annapolis)

4 Obama: “Our success depends on our willingness to engage in the kind of honest conversation and cooperation that hasn’t always happened in Washington.” PE: “We’re doomed.” (Kevin Dopart, Washington) [I guess I didn’t get as many of these as I did in Week 729]

Selected honorable mentions:

“I’m absolutely a person who has not let ego run amok,” Winfrey says. Plain English: “ … as you will learn in this month’s article about me in my personal magazine, O, and on several shows premiering on the Oprah Winfrey Network.” (Jeff Brechlin, Eagan, Minn.)

“We clearly have to continue to provide the message to the Afghan people about why we’re here and what it is that we want to do,” Petraeus said. PE: “Can somebody tell me why we’re here and what it is that we want to do?” (Gary Crockett, Chevy Chase)

Buy your next BMW with zero down, and no processing fee. PE: Please, please, for the love of God, buy one of our ^%&% cars! (Craig Dykstra, Centreville)

Richard Nixon, discussing various ethnic groups on a recently released tape: “I’ve just recognized that, you know, all people have certain traits…” PE: Mine is that I’m a sleazy bigot. (Russell Beland, Fairfax; Nan Reiner, Alexandria)

And then: Week 1198, 2016 — as in Nov. 17, 2016, right after the election (all results here):

In Week 1198 we asked readers to find a sentence in that’s week’s Post or another newspaper and to translate it into “plain English,” free of spin, obfuscation or just plain lying. Some entrants’ translations snarkily assumed an election outcome other than the one that occurred; to those Losers, I hope that being robbed of ink is the biggest thing you have to be upset about all week.

4th place: “Kaine said there’s nothing in his life or emails he’d be ‘overly embarrassed about’ and said he’s determined not to be distracted.” Translation: Kaine admits having no life. (Neal Starkman, Seattle)

3rd place: From a classified ad: “Oil Painting: Man and Camel — $110 Original, in beautiful gold frame.” Translation: “I don’t know how to use Craigslist.” (Kevin Dopart, Washington)

2nd place and the Hillary Laughing Pen: “How does one face the absurdity of existence in a cold, indifferent universe, where time’s arrow points inexorably toward death and the only certainties are loss and sorrow?” Translation: What do you mean you’re out of the pumpkin spice ones?!!” (Danielle Nowlin, Fairfax Station, Va.)

And the winner of the Inkin’ Memorial: On China’s plan to rate its citizens: “Imagine a world where an authoritarian government monitors everything you do, amasses huge amounts of data on almost every interaction you make, and awards you a single score that measures how “trustworthy” you are.” Translation: “Imagine how you got your own credit rating.” (Kevin Dopart)

Selected honorable mentions:

A Nobel Prize committee member about Bob Dylan’s refusal to acknowledge receiving the literature award: “One can say that it is impolite and arrogant.” Translation: “What a douche.” (Hildy Zampella, Falls Church, Va.)

“Scientists say that the Ross Sea has hardly been touched by humans and as such is a perfect laboratory.” Translation: “Hey, look! Nobody’s ever touched this stuff! Let’s touch it!” (Marni Penning Coleman, Falls Church, Va.)

“U. S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an operation that has not been acknowledged, said the drones being flown out of Tunisia …” Translation: The Pentagon announced that it is flying drones out of Tunisia. (Dave Prevar, Annapolis, Md.)

“I love Florida, this is my second home.” Translation: “I wouldn’t be caught dead here in the summer.” (Florida native Tom Witte, Montgomery Village, Md.)

Have at it, gimlet-eyes!

Actronyms*: The results of Week 1443

*Non-inking headline submitted by several Losers with varying spellings

The Week 1443 contest was to propose some legislation and give it some comically convoluted name so that it would result in a relevant acronym — much like the real-life DEJOY Act to speed up mail delivery. It seemed ripe for the Invite, since it incorporated both wordplay and pet-peeve humor and, likely, political humor as well.

But it proved a challenge for the Loser Community, drawing fewer than 1,000 entries and fewer entrants than usual as well. To come up with a phrase you could turn into an acronym didn’t prove much of an obstacle, though some of the words used were a stretch. But it became a slog to read through one long, convoluted phrase after another (even though the silliness of the whole phenomenon is what we were mocking). This is one reason why the results in week’s print edition comprise just 18 inking entries, with 28 online.

Alas, I didn’t see as many fresh and funny ideas as usual in the observational/peeve-humor department, and much of the political humor tended toward the screedy. A few people spelled out unprintable words, and whoever spelled out “ASSININE” should have consulted a dictionary first.

But a couple dozen veteran Losers — along with First Offender Michael Chung — made it all work, and really, for jokes like this, that’s plenty.

The Losers’ Circle of the top four entries is all familiar names: Kevin Dopart wins the Invite for the insane 35th time, and it’s his third win of our latest trophy, the Clowning Achievement. (Under our 100 Clowners for 100 Losers scheme, Kevin gets a little “III” flag to attach to the base of the Disembodied Clown Head. Until he gets the “IV.”) And among the runners-up, Duncan Stevens closes in on 700 blots of ink, Roy Ashley is next in line for the Hall of Fame as he strides toward 500, and relative newbie Jonathan Jensen has been on the page almost every week for the past couple of years.

What Doug Dug: Ace Copy Editor Doug Norwood most enjoyed Chris Doyle’s ELEPHANT act (Endorsing Legislators’ Efforts to Pack Heat and Annoy Nancy, Too) — and yes, gun-totin’ Rep. Lauren Boebert is really from Rifle, Colo.; First Offender Mike Chung’s tribute to Tucker Carlson (Totally Unsubstantiated, Colossally Knowledgeless, Error-Riddled, Crosseyed Articles Reading Like Smart, Objective News); Craig Dykstra’s Binary Initiative to Transfer Capital from Online Investment Neophytes, a.k.a. the Fool and His Money plan; and Bob Kruger’s WE ARE SCREWED act (While Earth’s Ailments Require Expeditious Solutions, Congress Regards Everything With Endless Delay:).

Next week, just as we wrap up the Olympics: The results of Week 1444, our contest to alter the name of a sport to make a new one. Now, that one got a LOT of entries.

Also next week: Limerick people, are you ready?