Hey Bernanke, Say It Again…in English

When Slate’s Jeremy Singer-Vine debuted the “Plain English” tool on Slate Labs, I was curious to see how people would take advantage of it. It’s a program that translates meaningless jargon into, well, plain English. It’s kind of like a very efficient Babelfish for technical, legal or political gobbledygook.

On Wednesday, Jacob Goldstein at NPR’s Planet Money website put the tool to use on the Federal Reserve’s statement that it “is about to create $600 Billion out of thin air,” as Goldstein puts it. (For more on that, see the The Wall Street Journal, which explains it pretty well.)

Thanks to Plain English, you, too, can read the Fed’s statement without getting your eyes crossed and drool on your shirt. Convert the statement all at once, or click on individual sentences. So, for instance, this mind-numbing paragraph:

Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. Currently, the unemployment rate is elevated, and measures of underlying inflation are somewhat low, relative to levels that the Committee judges to be consistent, over the longer run, with its dual mandate. Although the Committee anticipates a gradual return to higher levels of resource utilization in a context of price stability, progress toward its objectives has been disappointingly slow.

Becomes this:

The Fed has two main jobs: Keep unemployment low and prices stable. At the moment, as you may have heard, unemployment is really high. And inflation is so low that it’s making us nervous. We keep saying that unemployment’s going to fall. And it keeps not falling.

And this sentence, in reference to the radical plan to buy $600 worth of treasury bonds:

The Committee will regularly review the pace of its securities purchases and the overall size of the asset-purchase program in light of incoming information and will adjust the program as needed to best foster maximum employment and price stability.

Becomes this:

By the way, this is an experiment, and we don’t really know how it’s going to work out. We reserve the right to change our plans at any time.

Ah. Handy! Maybe I’ll use this “Plain English” thing on future e-mails I get from passive-aggressive relatives. (Just kidding, Aunt Ruth!)

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Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner