The Plain Language Big Book is Falling

[fa icon="calendar"] Apr 30, 2024 10:03:05 AM / by Maj Donovan

The Plain Language Big Book is Falling

When I was growing up, I learned about Chicken Little who ran around telling everyone that the “Sky is Falling!”  The point of the story was to teach young children not to put too much stock in absurd beliefs*. I was reminded of this story when I read all the social media chatter about the new Plain Language Big Book that has been approved for publishing by AA World Services.  

After nearly a half century of attending recovery meetings, I have found it best to take all of this heated hyperbole and rhetoric into stride and treat it much like the proverbial water flowing off the duck’s back.  When AA lost the copyright to the Big Book it was heralded as the end of AA.  That didn’t come to pass.  When AA lost its fight to copyright the “Circle and the Triangle” this loss was lauded as the end of AA, but that didn’t happen either.  When AA tried unsuccessfully to gain ownership of the original manuscript of the Big Book, this too was met with doom and gloom, but it quickly passed with hardly anyone noticing.  

Now we are on the eve of the Plain Language Big Book being published and Chicken Little seems to have taken flight. For those who have concerns about an updated Big Book watering down or worse yet ruining the AA program, here are a couple things to keep in mind.  

  1. The principal author of the Big Book, Bill W., was by scholarship a lawyer.  He tended to write in a lawyerly way by placing a problem before the reader, providing evidence of that problem and finally a solution to the problem. Two of the chief editors of the Big Book were Dr. Bob who had a medical degree and Bill D. (AA #3) who had a legal degree. Note all of these men had advanced degrees and they tended to speak and write in a fashion that was in accordance with their education. The Plain Language Big Book attempts to address this by putting the words and phrases within it in a manner that might be more easily read and understood by a person who doesn’t have an advanced degree. 
  2. After the Big Book was published, Dr. Bob thought it was too difficult to read.  He asked a local AA member who was a newspaper journalist to write some pamphlets to augment the Big Book so that it might be more easily understood.  These pamphlets are still available today and have come to be known as the Akron Pamphlets. 

Today, AA can be found around the world. The Big Book has been translated into 70 different languages. AA has weathered many storms from the passing of its co-founders to anonymity breaks and even being disparaged by the recovery community it helped to flourish. In spite of all of this, AA continues to strive, grow, and keep its doors open to the newcomer who is looking for a solution to their drinking problem.  I suspect that the Plain Language Big Book will be no more than a blip on the AA recovery radar. 

*The Free Dictionary gives this insightful information about the phrase “the sky is falling”: An absurd belief that disaster is imminent. The “sky is falling” has become an idiom which is used to express the belief that something ominous and disastrous is about to happen.

Topics: Alcoholics Anonymous, AA Big Book, Recovery Program

Maj Donovan

Written by Maj Donovan

Maj Donovan is a person in long-term recovery with over four decades of sobriety. He is an author, blogger, lecturer and teaches a monthly workshop at “The Retreat” on the 12 Steps and Sponsorship.

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