The Times, 5 November 2008

Because I live in an area with a good local council, who collect our rubbish twice a week, pick up the recycling every Tuesday, and mended the road quite swiftly after it blew up outside the dentist's, I sometimes forget that local councils are, in many ways, the living embodiment of evil. Then Bournemouth Council, among others, issued a list of Latin phrases which its employees are advised not to use, and things fell back into place.

Several local authorities have banned the use of phrases like 'vice versa', 'quid pro quo', or 'via'. Now, I'm sure that they aren't trying to be annoying and dense. Well, sure is a strong word, but let's assume for a moment that they aren't. Let's assume instead that they genuinely believe it when they say use of Latin is discriminatory, especially to those whose first language isn't English. And then let's bang our heads hard against our clenched fists until we feel better. The point of using Latin, surely, is that it is often the quickest and most effective way to communicate something. 'Via' is an excellent example. It's shorter than any of its alternatives - by way of, by means of, by virtue of - and easy to spell.

Also, and I feel bad that this is news to so many local government officials, English isn't the only language deriving words from Latin. So French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese people, for a start, might find Latin less of a challenge than Bournemouth Council expects. And any visitors from Vatican City are going to be laughing, albeit briefly.

Even the Plain English Campaign has stepped in, applauding the councils' decision, and suggesting that some officials only use Latin to make themselves feel important. Please - these people work in local government, they spend their whole lives making themselves feel important. That's how come they have time to think about the elitist nature of Latin, instead of going to help an old lady who needs a hand with her shopping.

A Plain English spokesman helpfully suggested that the Latin ban might stop people confusing 'e.g.' with the word 'egg'. Well, quite. Who hasn't perused the back page of their council tax bill, and found themselves baffled by the sudden mention of eggs? I'll tell you who: everyone. Everyone has managed to understand that, unless 'e.g'. has been spitefully included in a breakfast menu (which local councils rarely provide), it doesn't mean 'egg'.

Bournemouth Council might have done well to check their grasp of English before taking pot-shots at Latin. An example of their commitment to the mother tongue can be found on their website: 'Current byelaws allow dogs to exercise on the seafront with the exception that during 1 May and 30 September they must be kept on a lead when on the promenade and cliff paths'. Unless they really mean to ban free-ranging dogs on two solitary days of the year, they might want to look at that again.