Friday, April 07, 2006

Plain and Fancy

I must hand it to SEC Chairman Cox. I don’t care for his politics, but as the daughter of an English teacher I am duly impressed by the man’s passionate devotion to the cause of Plain English.

And Headmaster Cox isn't afraid to rap some knuckles when people write their executive compensation disclosure in Fancy English.

In a recent speech on the Commission's proposed executive compensation disclosure rules, Cox blasted the passive tense:

We want to promote the use of the active voice not just because it makes for punchier sentences, but because it requires a definite subject to go with the predicate… So it won't cut it to say, "It was decided to give Mr. Smithers a suitable commemorative of his service with the company," when what could be said instead is that "We are giving Mr. Smithers a life-time supply of gold-trimmed paper tissues valued at $1 million."

I'm also happy to see Cox attack Compensation Committee reports as “a waste of trees and ink.” (Of course Cox doesn’t really give a damn about trees; if he did, the American Conservative Union wouldn't have awarded him a 100 percent rating for his Congressional performance.) But in his speech he parses a sample comp committee report, showing he's not fooled by language that makes bonuses and phantom stock sound like Mom and apple pie.

Whatever form the final rules take – and btw Monday is the deadline for comments – if Cox does nothing more than place companies under a Plain English Reign of Terror, he’ll have accomplished an awful lot. And if you don't like it, he's got some erasers you can clean.