The department of sensitive words

The word police really do exist and they've got a job on their hands...

By: Suzie,   3 minutes

taped mouth

Whisper it quietly, but I’ve uncovered evidence that the word police really do exist. In a manner of speaking…

I first began to suspect their actuality after receiving a very official looking letter from the Secretary of State informing us of our client Falmouth University’s (formerly University College Falmouth) official change of name. As if the receipt of a physical letter and not an email wasn’t enough excitement for one day, I also found myself intrigued and delighted to discover it had been signed by a lady who’s title was Case Officer, Sensitive Words Department. I kid you not.

Pushing aside my immediate and strong desire to apply for a job with this organisation (for the amazing title alone), I shared the information with colleagues. As we are all a little bit obsessed by words here, we were unanimous in our agreement that further investigation was necessary.

A new Feed was born and so, interest piqued, I donned my very best deerstalker (because, where possible, hats should always be introduced when investigating is on the cards – plus it’s been pretty chilly lately) and set out to uncover the truth behind the title.

I took myself off to the Companies House website where I delved through virtual archives and unearthed a raft of rules and regulations about words that should be treated with the utmost care and respect when used in company names. Chapter 7 offers an introduction to what constitutes a ‘sensitive’ word – and there’s a whole list of them that need the approval  for use lest they mislead the public.

Annex A contains words that suggest a status or function that needs approval from an official body – words including Authority, Bank, British, Chamber of, Charity, Dental, Duke and Duchess, England, Fund, Government, Health Service, Human Rights, Institute, King, Midwife, NHS, National, Parliament, Police, Prince and Princess, Queen, Register, Royal, Scottish, Society, Trade Union, Trust and University. All must be approved by a series of bodies who act as ‘word guardians’. Is it me or is this starting to sound like Harry Potter?

I was pleasantly surprised, being a graduate of the university there, to find that Sheffield was one of only two towns on this list (the other is Windsor). That means my University had not one but two names requiring approval. Neat. For permission to use the word ‘Sheffield’ you must seek approval from the Company of Cutlers.

Words that imply a connection with a government department or public authority are listed in Annex B. These include Accountancy, Assembly, Cabinet Office, Crime Squad, Commissioner, Department for/ of, Education, GB, HMRC, Ministry (of), Ireland, Nuclear Installation, Scrivener, Trade Mark and UK.

Footballers and The Only Way is Essex aficionados may be disappointed to learn that the term WAG cannot be used in a company name unless it has the prior consent of the Welsh Government.

And then, deep down, in the murky depths of Annex C, there are a list of words that, used without approval, may constitute the committing of a criminal offence.

Yes, it appears that the laws of the land can actually punish an incorrect use of words – and not just bad puns. Many of these words are concerned with occupations and some are more surprising than others. Here’s a taster: Anzac, Architect, Art psychotherapist, Dietician, Speech therapist, Attorney General, Chemist, Contact lens (I know!), Credit Union, Dentist, Doctor of medicine, Geneva Cross, Housing Corporation, Optician, Ordnance Survey, Physician, Solicitor, Surgeon and Vet.

There’s also a raft of Olympic-related words including: Olympic, Paralympic, Spirit in Motion, Faster, Higher, Stronger and even combinations of two words such as twenty-twelve, games, medals and more.

So, the bottom line is, if you’re thinking of starting a company named the Duchess of Sheffield, the Ministry of Gold Medals or the Scrivener’s Fund then it may be wise to think again.

Or risk arrest.

We always knew words were powerful things.


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