Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Larger than something very large indeed

with 4 comments

English: The E-ELT

Science, eh? Lots of big, off-putting words and whatnot. Sums, too, usually. Plain language? Not so you’d notice.

Until now.

My plain language award for 2011 goes to the European Southern Observatory (ESO). It’s building an extremely large telescope. The telescope’s official name? You will never guess, it being science stuff and all, so just read on:

The European Extremely Large Telescope.

E-ELT for short.

This is an amazing piece of kit: the world’s ‘biggest eye on the sky’ as the ESO, in a slightly more poetic frame of mind, describes it. 

I’m presuming it supersedes the Very Large Telescope (yes, that’s its official name), which makes me wonder what the next, even bigger, telescope could possibly be called. The Really Extremely Large Telescope? The You Think THAT Was Big Telescope?

Speaking of plain language, the excellent Plain English Campaign has just announced its Golden Bull awards for 2011. These highlight examples of gobbledegook in public life. It’s not a vintage year for the awards, in my opinion, but worth it to find out that Harrow Council, here in the UK, has a ‘Personalisation Implementation Team’.

I have no idea what it does, but I’m guessing not astronomy.

Plain and simple — good writing guide

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4 Responses

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  1. I’m intrigued by this, in the ESO tourist info:-

    In an emergency, always follow the guide’s instructions.

    What possible emergency could they have in mind? It’s not an industrial plant – it’s just a big telescope! Terminal ennui from the world’s dullest mountains must be a possibility, I suppose . . .


    09/12/2011 at 10:21 am

    • Hi, Ron

      I didn’t see that bit. Perhaps if a comet heading for Earth were spotted through the Even Larger Than The One We Made Last Time Telescope?? At least there’s a good chance the guide’s instructions would be in plain language. (‘Run for your lives’?)


      09/12/2011 at 10:36 am

  2. Though probably more than one person selects the names or acronyms, I liked the ones in their glossary indicating a mischievous sense of humour, such as DDT (Director’s Discretionary Time), and ESPRESSO (Echelle SPectrograph for Rocky Exoplanet- and Stable Spectroscopic Observations).

    If the telescope were here, they would name it after Ronald Reagan. Local custom is to at least attempt to name everything after Ronald Reagan.

    Invisible Mikey

    09/12/2011 at 1:21 pm

    • Hi, Mikey

      I missed those too, but I’m glad you didn’t. They’re very funny — especially ‘ESPRESSO’!

      I couldn’t resist a quick investigation and found:

      MAD Multi-conjugate Adaptive optics Demonstrator
      MATISSE Multi AperTure mid-Infrared SpectroScopic Experiment (VLTI)
      OBAMA Optical Bidule for Aberration Measurement on the ATs

      Definitely mischief at work, as you say!

      Thanks for sharing here, Mikey.


      09/12/2011 at 1:53 pm

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