Watchdog accused of 'infantilising' public by call to avoid Latin and French words

Julian Fellowes - Maja Smiejkowska/Reuters
Julian Fellowes - Maja Smiejkowska/Reuters

Latin and French phrases should be avoided, according to a government watchdog, which has been accused of "infantilising the British people".

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has told staff that they should not use certain phrases such as 'quid pro quo' because they may alienate their readers.

The diktat has led to criticism from some including Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, who said that it simply serves to increase "the gap between the privileged and those who are less so".

The style guide, obtained by the Mail on Sunday using the Freedom of Information laws the ICO, is responsible for overseeing, warns staff that they should not use Latin because few people have studied it.

It states: "English has embraced thousands of words from other languages, including bungalow, cliché, graffiti, kiosk and ombudsman. But some words of foreign origin are so uncommon that they confuse or alienate our readers."

'Ergo', 'en route' and 'a priori' to be avoided

A list of foreign words to be avoided include the Latin 'ergo'. Several French terms include 'en route'. Some of the more obscure Latin phrases listed in the guide include 'a priori', a term used in philosophy meaning knowledge which is not based on experience; 'sine qua non', meaning an essential condition; and 'inter alia', which means among other things.

Mr Fellowes suggested that the guidance was "infantilising the British people".

"The idea that it is morally right to make absolutely no demands on anyone, either intellectually or emotionally, is a pernicious one and simply increases the gap between the privileged and those who are less so," he said.

'Some words are uncommon and may alienate readers'

A spokesman for the ICO said: "We avoid using foreign words in our writing as some words are uncommon and may alienate our readers.

"The purpose of the style guide is to ensure our written communications are clear, easy to follow and are accessible to all ICO audiences eg those with literacy difficulties or where English is a second language."

According to the British Council's latest report on language trends, Latin is taught in just 2.7 per cent of state secondary schools compared with 49 per cent of private schools.

Last year ministers launched a £4 million Latin Excellence Programme which will see thousands of state school pupils in deprived parts of the country offered lessons to ensure the subject is not "reserved for the privileged few".