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Thursday, 10 March 2011

Bitter pill on language

Academics in the UK have found something new to study. They have concluded that many people are struggling to understand the warnings on their medicine bottles. Supposedly unclear wording which will now be banned includes, “This medicine may cause drowsiness”. Because some people apparently think that this signifies that the medicine is an aid to sleeping, the wording will be changed to, "This medicine may make you sleepy". Who are these people, and why? Define 'many'.

Other warnings to be banned include “Do not operate machinery”, which will be changed to, “Do not drive or use tools or machines”, and, “Avoid alcoholic drinks”, which will become, “Do not drink alcohol while taking this medicine”.

Apparently, ‘drowsy’ is not a word that people use any more. Well, it should be. It is a fine word, and banning it from medicine bottles will speed its disappearance from our vocabulary, which is a great pity. Before you know it, ‘dampish’ will go the same way.

That said, we should all be in favour of clear language in all forms of public media. Sometimes, simple misprints can lead to confusion, as one Amateur Dramatics Company found when it put on a play which included a version of the Cole Porter classic, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Sink’.

But other times the language is just too loose. I myself was unable to use the London Underground for many years because, whenever I went to embark on the escalator, I was stopped in my tracks by a sign proclaiming, “Dogs Must Be carried”. Where is one to get a dog at such short notice?


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