The Co-op: good with food, not so good with words

Described in most media reports as a ‘victory’ for the Plain English Campaign (PEC), the Co-op has been forced to remove the word ‘ambient’ from labels printed in-store for sausage rolls.
While it doesn’t make immediate sense to us customers, ambient is a jargon word used in the food industry to describe food and drink that can be stored at room temperature. The Co-op has apparently owned up to an ‘administrative error’ – another meaningless phrase if ever I heard one – and has apologised for any confusion. I suspect the real reason is that, like many other organisations, the Co-op has simply become blind and deaf to industry jargon.
The story, although slight, has gone global.  A quick Google search this morning produced 3,370 hits from news outlets and bloggers. “‘Ambient’ sausage roll confuses shoppers” was the headline for SBS.com in Australia, confusing it’s own readers by publishing an accompanying picture of various sausages rather than sausage rolls.
Of course, the story also provided the media with a great excuse to play with puns.  The Express said that the use of the word ambient ‘…was a description which campaigners found too hard to swallow.’ Meanwhile several other sites carried the phrase ‘…the description took the linguistic biscuit.’ This phrase may have originated with PEC, although I haven’t been able to find the original source.
No surprise that in the Twittersphere there were around five pages of tweets on the same subject, most of the comments betraying the writers’ age with nostalgic references to rave culture and Brian Eno – ‘What next? Trip Hop Hot Pot’; ‘Drop an E, grab an ambient sausage roll.’
The moral of the tale?  Treat jargon like the Jabberwock and beware of ‘…the jaws that bite, the claws that catch!…”
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