Jargon and the economic recession

According to the UK’s Local Government Association (LGA), ditching jargon can “help people during the recession”. I propose that ditching jargon can help people almost any time, anywhere, and that dressing it up as an economic matter smacks of opportunism. But it’s in a good cause, so I’ll move on.

Today the LGA published a blacklist of 200 words and phrases that public sector workers are to avoid when talking about their work and services. The BBC have a summary here. The LGA has also supplied alternatives for most of the terms in their list.

Although this effort is welcome and potentially useful, the list itself is quite baffling. Some of the rejected terms seem fine to me: client and customer often cannot be replaced by person, while sustainable is quite different to long term – though there is some overlap in meaning. Client, customer and sustainable may be prone to overuse or inappropriate use, but that is no reason to ban them.

Many of the blacklisted terms are followed by the phrase “why use at all?” It’s a fair question to ask of rebaselining, holistic governance and – are you sitting down? – predictors of beaconicity, but what’s wrong with compact? Some of the suggested alternatives, meanwhile, are as bad as the terms they are meant to replace. Is coterminosity worse than all singing from the same hymn sheet? Can’t we destroy both?

Other alternatives listed have limited synonymity. Tough has significantly different connotations to robust, an initiative is not an idea, multi-disciplinary does not mean many, and a challenge is not necessarily a problem (neither is an issue).

Nor are word types sustained. If you want to replace transparency, the list says you need clear. Not clarity? Enabler could become helper, but not helps. Thematic derives from theme; you cannot simply swap one for the other. Some alternatives are better, e.g. in the future substitutes for going forward. But except for a few cases, the replacement terms seem more like rough notes than usable alternatives.

5 Responses to Jargon and the economic recession

  1. Sean Jeating says:

    Missing one phrase I have an issue – ha ha – with:
    invest(ment) in the future.

  2. Stan says:

    Is there an equivalent German cliché, Sean?

  3. Sean Jeating says:

    Well, I am pretty sure were we able to understand say 20 languages we’d find similar ‘symptoms’ in each.

    To stick with above’s example: There’s no day you would not hear some ‘very (self-)important Germans’ praise themselves saying: […] is a good investment in the future.

    Had I not learnt counting til ten, I’d daily detonate umpteen times. :)

  4. Stan says:

    Do be careful, Sean. Detonation is very bad for digestion.

    Have you tried buzzword bingo?

  5. Sean Jeating says:

    Ha ha – Bingo!
    Pinched for ‘Laughing Lhursday’!

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