Although every activity, whether it be in the sporting, legal, industrial, business or political field has its jargon, a sort of ''closed shop'' of words which only the elite can understand, it is yet difficult to see how so many official documents reach their present condition of almost complete incomprehensibility.
Recently, here in England, an appeals tribunal sent the following letter to a disabled man who was querying a reduction in his benefits. ''The requirements of regulation 2 (1), 5, 14, 15 and 19 of the Supplementary Benefit (requirement) Regulations as amended and where appropriate from 22.11.82, as further amended by regulation 1 (2), 2 (2), 2 (4), 2 (9), 2/10 and 2 (12) of the Supplementary benefit (Housing Benefits) (Requirements and Resources) Consequential Amendment Regulations 1982 (S1 1982/1126), and S1 1982/1124 of the Housing Benefits Regulations 1982, have been corectly applied.''
Presumably to the civil servant typing this letter its contents were as transparent as chrysolite, but what is puzzling is how he could, for one moment, have thought it would be so to its recipient. One feels quite baffled that a man in his senses could expect such a letter to be anything but gobbledegook to one uninitiated into the mysteries of the Department of Health.
This ministry seems to be especially prone to obscurity, for it has just won an award presented by the Plain English Campaign for the worst gibberish used by local councils, government departments and industry with a 143-word sentence beginning ''From and including 26 11 81 an additional component is payable at the weekly rate of 5p which is the rate appropriate to 1 1/4 percent of the amount of the surplusses in the earnings factors for 3 years in the claimant's working life after reduction on account of his guaranteed pension . . . ''
Now, it is reasonable that anybody drawing up a document or draughting a business letter should try to cover every contingency, but why they cannot be couched in simple language which you and I can understand is beyond the bounds of comprehension. For here are these men - and now (though I hate to think of it) these women - ordinary human beings as far as one can judge, living, laughing, loving just as we do, having marmalade for breakfast and complaining about the weather and worrying about their children's school reports, perfectly ordinary, normal people who suddenly, it seems, on reaching their desks, go mad.
What makes them do it? Are they taken over by gremlins? If, one wonders, they were confrnted with equally opaque information from another source, would they understand it? Are their minds so educated up to, and conditioned by, inscrutability that an incoherent message from, say, the Foreign Office, is 100% limpid to them? Would they instantaneously grasp a letter from an attorney with all its strange words such as ''mulct'' and ''amercement,'' not to mention lots of Latin? Or from a stockbroker? Or sometimes, indeed, instructions as to how to put together a child's cot? Or the small print of an insurance policy? Are they masters as well as purveyors of bafflegab? It is a phenomenon. And one without which, most assuredly, the world could well do.