December 05, 2006

"When is hungry not hungry"

I subscribe to a monthly e-newsletter from The Word Centre, a group in the UK who promote the use of plain English. In today's edition is this scary item:
When is hungry not hungry?

Answer: when the US Government decides to replace one easy-to- understand plain English word, with a decidedly unclear four-word phrase.

From now on the new phrase used in a report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be 'very low food security'.

Why? Because the word 'hungry' is not a 'scientifically accurate term' for what the annual USDA food security survey looks at: how many American people have gone without food during the year.

This year's survey found that 12% of Americans, around 35 million people, could not put food on the table for at least part of last year. Of these 35 million people, 11 million said they had gone hungry at times. It is to this group of people the phrase 'very low food security' will apply.

The USA has set a goal of reducing the number of hungry households to 6% or less by 2010, or to half the 1995 level. But it is finding this target difficult to achieve as the number of people going without food has increased over the last 5 years.

'Anti-hunger' advocates say the new words 'sugar coat' a national shame.

David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, an anti-hunger advocacy group, says:
"The proposal to remove the word 'hunger' from our official reports is a huge disservice to the millions of Americans who struggle daily to feed themselves and their families.'

In other words, if a goal is not being met, move the goalposts. Or if that might attract unfavourable comment, call the goalposts impermanent target-indicative markers instead.

Mind you, I think the "anti-hunger advocates" could have chosen their metaphor with more care.

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