Rumsfeld is deserving

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Hoorah! An American has once again captured the ignominious &uot;Foot in Mouth&uot; award, which was presented Tuesday by Britain’s Plain English Campaign.

The annual award is given each Dec. 2 in honor of Plain English Day. Several awards are presented, ranging from communicating effectively by utilizing plain English to utterly mystifying missives that leave readers or listeners scratching their heads in complete bemusement.

Donald Rumsfeld, our Secretary of Defense, earned the Foot in Mouth award – presented for &uot;truly baffling comments&uot; – for his memorable explanation about events in Iraq after major combat was declared over by President Bush. No need for further explanation; I’ll let Rumsfeld’s words speak for themselves:

&uot;Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.&uot;

&uot;We think we know what he means,&uot; said Plain English Campaign spokesman John Lister. &uot;But we don’t know if we really know.&uot;

You go, Rummie! Actually, I remember that press conference and that memorable quote. It was a hoot and definitely deserved the Foot in Mouth Award this year. At the time, I got the impression Rumsfeld was toying with the press because he uttered those through a strange smile. But whether he meant it as an explanation or simply as something to befuddle the media, it was masterfully uttered.

An American (sort of) also took runner-up honors for Foot in the Mouth this year. When asked his opinion about gay marriages, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said, &uot;I think that gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman.&uot; Awight, Awnold!

The Golden Bull Award was presented to eight different lucky recipients for the most egregious use of gobbledygook this year. I don’t have space enough for all eight, but here are some of the winners of the Golden Bull:

* was asked a simple question – Do you still sell blank CDs? Instead of simply saying ‘No’, the company replied: &uot;We are currently in the process of consolidating our product range to ensure that the products that we stock are indicative of our brand aspirations. As part of our range consolidation we have also decided to revisit our supplier list and employ a more intelligent system for stock acquisition. As a result of the above certain product lines are now unavailable through, whilst potentially remaining available from more mainstream suppliers.&uot;

* Rather than simply admit an assistant had dispensed the wrong strength of tablet, and that this mistake had not been picked up by the pharmacist, Lloyds Pharmacy waffled on about staff making a ‘cognitive error’. This is just part of a 181-word passage:

&uot;The cognitive process that staff will go through when interpreting prescriptions and selecting drugs is almost intuitive in that the prescription will be read, a decision is then made in the mind of the individual concerned, they will then make a selection based on what they have decided.

&uot;When an error is made either mentally or in the physical selection process it is difficult for the individual concerned to detect their own error because in their own mind they have made the correct selection.&uot;

An article by Yousef El-Deiry in JMC airline’s &uot;Intercom&uot; magazine managed to squeeze in at least 15 clichs and strained metaphors:

&uot;As we enter the last third of the summer season, we are faced with a period of operation, which is historically characterised by pre-maturity, both in terms of psychological wind-down and shedding of temporary staff.

&uot;’Once bitten, twice shy,’ and history shows that our bridges can so easily be burnt and the strength of current position lost, if we allow this malice to gather momentum.

&uot;The irony is that, it is in the latter stages of a race or championship that fortunes are made or lost, and where heroes are born or die, and we should be in no doubt that; ‘it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.’

&uot;You’ll forgive the poetic license of my political incorrectness in using this old adage, but it’s a poignant reminder to be cautious, since there is a real danger that our lines of defence will weaken, as our supply chain fades away with a dilution of resources, vigour and will.

&uot;However, there is a positive spin to this dilemma, from which all of us can draw strength and inspiration.

&uot;The approach, which I wish to advocate to all our ground team, is to look at the last third of the season as a ‘light at the end of the tunnel,’ the long sought-after jewel in the crown, remaining resolute to sprint to victory.

&uot;We must never doubt the difference that we can make in controlling and shaping our own destiny, which for me boils down to one fundamental question, namely leadership’ I am a firm believer that the most effective and motivating form of leadership is that by example.

&uot;Hence why I now look to our management team throughout the UK Airports, as I know our ground team will be, to lead from the front and carry the operation through to the end.

&uot;The months of September and October are vital to us securing our ground handling and on-time targets, and we must see this through to the end with conviction and pride.

&uot;Through these final stages of the race, there will never be more of a need to unite the team and draw on each other’s strength, in order to control suppliers and facilities alike, and keep the programme running smoothly.

&uot;This is ground force in its purest form, so rally the troops and show that we are a force to be reckoned with.&uot;

If you’re interested in the real winners – those who actually used plain English – or if you’d like to read Golden Bull and Foot in Mouth winners from previous years, check out the Plain English Campaign’s website at: