Be that as it may, personal preference on the use of a more or less prestigious language is no longer relevant. In South African law there is now a legal obligation to use a simplified, more understandable language.
The CPA, in Part D thereof, provides that the consumer has a “Right to Disclosure and Information". In this regard, section 22 of the CPA places an obligation on the producer of documents to provide the consumer with notices, documents or visual representations that are in plain and understandable language.
What is plain and understandable language and how are we to interpret section 22 and apply it in practice?
Before addressing this question, it is important to bear in mind the purpose of the CPA as a whole.
Section 2(1) of the CPA directs any interpretation of the CPA to be conducted in a manner “that gives effect to the purposes set out in section 3”.
Section 3 of the CPA explains that the purpose of the Act is to promote and advance the social and economic welfare of consumers in South Africa by, among other things, ensuring that consumers are not disadvantaged by a limited ability to read and comprehend any advertisement, agreement, mark, instruction, label, warning, notice or other visual representation by reason of low literacy, vision impairment or limited fluency in the language in which the representation is produced, published or presented.
While the application and interpretation of section 22 of the CPA has not yet been adjudicated on by the National Consumer Commission or a court of law and as such, the CPA sets out a number of guidelines for language to be considered plain and understandable.
For the purposes of this Act, a notice, document or visual representation is considered to be in plain language if it is reasonable to conclude that an ordinary consumer of the class of persons for whom the notice, document or visual representation is intended, with average literacy skills and minimal experience as a consumer of the relevant goods or services, could be expected to understand the content, significance and import of the notice, document or visual representation without undue effort.
Accordingly, one may need to use a much simpler use of language when the notice, document or visual representation concerned is intended for a consumer with little or no education in order to address a reasonable consumer or ordinary consumer of the class of persons for whom the notice, document or visual representation is intended and the consumer with average literacy skills and minimal experience.
To determine whether a consumer can understand a representation, notice or document without "undue effort", the following should be taken into account:
• the context, comprehensiveness and consistency of the notice, document or visual representation:
? the content should at all times be consistent with the context in which the notice, document or visual representation is intended
? the notice, document or visual representation should include all aspects necessary to be conveyed to the consumer in respect of the goods and/or services that are intended for that consumer; and
? no ambiguity must exist in the notice, document or visual representation;
• the notice, document or visual representation should be set out in a manner that is well-organised, follows a form that the consumer is familiar and comfortable with and in a style of writing that is easy for the consumer to understand
• the vocabulary, usage and sentence structure of the notice, document or visual representation must be easy to understand and simple, straightforward sentences should be used
• the use of any illustrations, examples, headings or other aids to reading and understanding.
The Free dictionary by Farlex, defines a "Sesquipedalian" as "one who uses big words".
A "Sesquipedalian" is, according to the shorter Oxford English Dictionary, "one who is characterised by long words, tending to be lengthy and ponderous in speech".
The CPA is telling us: Stop being a Sesquipedalian and just KISS – "Keep It Simple Stupid"