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One Group's Fight for Understandable Language

This is the VOA Special English Economics Report, from | Sometimes, financial news can be hard to understand. A former official of Goldman Sachs investment bank explained what his group did before the financial crisis this way. He said: "Our desk began to accumulate short positions, purchasing protection on individual securities through credit default swaps, largely from external C.D.O. managers who asked us to bid for these positions." Josh Birnbaum was involved in synthetic C.D.O.s. These are really financial bets on whether some asset will gain or lose value. They are at the heart of the government's case against Goldman Sachs for misleading investors. Senator Claire McCaskill described synthetic C.D.O.s during a Senate subcommittee hearing. She said: "Let me just explain in very simple terms what synthetic C.D.O.s are. They are instruments that are created so that people can bet on them." The purpose of language is to communicate information. But it can often hide meaning. Have you ever agreed to the "terms of use" for a service without reading it all? Annetta Cheek heads the Center for Plain Language in Silver Spring, Maryland. Her non-profit group has been working for more understandable language in government and business since two thousand four. She offers one piece of advice for people who receive long, unclear documents: "If you don't understand something, don't sign it." This year, the Center for Plain Language held its first contest for best and worst language use. The best entry receives a ClearMark award. Confusing language gets a WonderMark award. One of the WonderMark entries was from the communications company, Blackberry. Annetta Cheek says the terms of use for a Blackberry are impossible to understand. Miz Cheek says the health care and finance industries are known for using language that is hard to understand. Health care has made progress. Several industries competed for this year's ClearMark award. But the financial industry remains a problem. Miz Cheek says, since the nineteen nineties, the Securities and Exchange Commission has tried to get financial companies to give clearer product descriptions. This has helped sales. She says government has to be involved in requiring clear language because the marketplace has not dealt with the problem. And that's the VOA Special English Economics Report. Share your thoughts at (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 30Apr10)
Length: 04:02


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