What a load of bull!

There's a strange smell in the air. At work, at home, in the media, in politics - the modern world is full of it. But don't despair: now you can cut through the crap with Nick Webb's 'Dictionary of Bullshit'. Hold your nose and dive in
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Challenge (n.), challenging (adj.)
Difficult. An "opportunity" is slightly less threatening than a challenge. Both may be "issues" but neither is a problem.

Downshifting (n. and v.)
Jargon for an escape from the stresses of the big job and the horrors of office footwork to a smaller, less lucrative but more pleasurable role. The most passionate advocates of downshifting are those who have given it all up to tend their own olive grove in Tuscany or vineyard in Provence. For such satisfying transformations it is essential to have a cabbage-sized wad in the bank.

Get with the programme (v./threat)
Do what you are told.

Hot-desking (jargon)
You are expected to be out in the field, ducking and weaving on the company's behalf. When you do venture into HQ, you haven't a desk or a chair to call your own. You may share a "work station".

On-the-job training (np.)
Throw them in and see if they drown

Public Relations/PR (np.)
Satan wasn't so bad; he just had a bad press. Corporations are similar. It's often easier to fix the perception of the problem than the problem itself.

Vision (n.)
Nobody wants a mere plan. It's not grand enough. Make sure you have a vision. If you cannot bring yourself to call your plan a "vision", at least call it a strategy.

We'll get back to you [though without specifying when] (cliché)
In about half a century if you're lucky... Those unlucky in love report that "I'll call you" can have a similar function after one-night stands


Accountability (abstract n.)
A mysterious virtue that all politicians claim to possess until the time comes to demonstrate it.

Clerical error (np.)
For goodness' sake, the subtext goes, you cannot hold me responsible for the mistake made by some nitwit so junior that I have scarcely heard of his grade yet alone the individual.

Crisis (n.)
A word routinely abused. We crave drama. The cream-bun cholesterol crisis? The Beverly Hills hairstylists' crisis? Etymologically, it implies a decisive moment. Repetition has desensitised us to it.

I am glad you asked me that... (catchphrase in interviews)
Because it gives me an opportunity to come out with my rehearsed spiel regardless of the question. If the right question is not asked, the politician being interviewed will say: "Yes, but the important thing to understand is..." and then segue back into his sub-routine.

I hear what you say... [usually followed by 'but...'] (catchphrase)
But I think - though in an affably non-confrontational way - that it's a load of bollocks.

Militant (n.)
Somebody who bothers to turn up.

Mistakes (n.)
These are always made anonymously, in the passive and in the past."Mistakes were made..." We all make them. They are accidental and thus forgivable.

No plans at this time... (evasive phrase) A lie. We have plans, but we don't want to admit to them.

Operational difficulties (np.)
Railways, airlines, government departments - all suffer operational difficulties from time to time. What are they? Anything. Not bullshit, but spray-gun words that cover everything.

[A] question of semantics (all-purpose answer)
This always sounds intelligent and is often true, or can be made to appear that way to a trained mind.

Sources close to (political code)
"Sources close to No 10..." means a press officer who, with the blessing of the boss, conveys information on the understanding that it is unattributable. In other words, it is something the powers-that-be wish to publish though they would appear too self-serving or spiteful if their names were attached to it. "Sources close to..." should not be confused with a deliberate leak which, in the Zen terminology, is an official leak. That's called "briefing against". An unofficial leak, on the other hand, is a heinous crime committed by a junior who must be ferreted out by the secret service and prosecuted.

While not wishing to (phrase)
While not wishing to, say, suggest that my opponent is a prurient, scandal-mongering nutter means the opposite: that is what I wish.


Because you deserve it... (copy line)
This has many variants. You know you don't need this thing, and therefore you feel guilty about wanting it. The advertiser is giving you permission to have it. Damn it, you're wonderful and are entitled to a treat. A brilliant line.

Bestseller (n.), Bestselling (adj.)
Sometimes true, but often a status claimed for some unimpressive sales figures in the hope that the description will be self-fulfilling. Buy it because the whole world is buying it.

Buy one, get one free (enduring sales pitch)
Buy twice as many as you want at a price that still gives the retailer a profit, if only because the supplier has been bullied into funding the promotion.

Characterful (adj. used by estate agents) Really strange and inconvenient.

Charming (adj.)
Unbearably kitsch.

Customer service (np.)
With a few exceptions, companies lose interest after the sale. Nothing dramatises this more than the anguish of the telephone call you attempt to make after the newly acquired dishwasher or computer has gone wrong. The call will lead you to an automated voice management system designed to direct you with maximum speed to the right department. The phone will play you homogenised Mozart or - even worse - cover versions of rock 'n' roll. Every two minutes an automated voice will thank you for your patience and assure you that your call is important. You yell, but in voice management space there is nobody to hear you scream.

Cutting-edge (n. and adj.)
Applied to technology (and borrowed from the military), this is praise from nerds. In the sense of innovative, it is usually a lie or at least deeply silly. Do we really need an electric pepper mill or a pen that records memos?

Designer (n. and adj.)
You can buy a pair of jeans in a supermarket for as little as £4, or you can pay 25 times that much for a "designer" pair. Both are made in factories in the Far East by nimble-fingered women and girls working long hours on minimal wages. Possibly they are made in the same factories. The difference between the jeans lies in the stitching over the pockets, possibly the weight of the cotton and certainly the boost to the self-esteem of those who can afford the expensive versions.

Economy size (np. and adj.)
Bloody huge.

Facilitator (n.)
A man or woman with a confident and fluent manner who can organise a sales and marketing conference and charge several thousand pounds a day without laughing.

Instant classic (marketing hype)
An oxymoron.

Intimate (adj.)
This has several meanings. Sentimental (of some naff gift), atmospheric (cloyingly scented candles), sexy (perfume laden with some animal product like musk or civet), or tiny (of flats). None of these is completely honest.

Lifestyle (n.)
A decision to buy one thing rather than another is now a lifestyle choice, an existential upheaval reflecting everything about the unspeakably super person that is you. We do not have lives now - we have lifestyles.

Retail therapy (np.)
This expression spread like flu. Where did it come from? Probably New York in the 1980s. Is there anything so decadent? Life is empty, so fill it with purchases.

Sex (n.)
Sells everything from photocopiers to insurance. We live in a world of constant low-level titillation. If you're not getting enough - just go out and buy more!

Technology (n.)
Computer technology - OK. But shampoo technology? Pencil technology? Jackets made of breathable fabrics are now "incorporating the latest in materials technology".

Terms and conditions apply (caveat in microscopic type)
We should read them. Some of them are the nearest thing to penal servitude since the Navy press-ganged drunks into taking the King's Shilling.


Care in the community (social work catchphrase)
Kicking disturbed people out of hospital. You cannot find a social worker who will utter these words without a sigh.

Deconstruction (critical jargon)
Nobody analyses any more. "Deconstruction" is analysis with a wicked French accent, dark glasses and a packet of Disque Bleu.

Easy access to... (estate agent's code)
Yes, you can walk.

Five minutes' walk from... (estate agent's code)
If you're an Olympic athlete in training, that is.

Icon/iconic (critical/pop culture)
Once icons were religious images. Then there were computer icons. Now any object or image that some journo or commentator reckons is characteristic of its time, or just ubiquitous, is "iconic". Twiggy, T-shirts, the Royal Festival Hall, Beatle haircuts, Sony Walkmans - all are icons.

[In] need of modernisation (estate agent's code)
It's a wreck.

Non-specific (medical)
As in "a non-specific viral infection". The doctor has not the foggiest notion of what you've got, but hopes this broad-spectrum antibiotic will knock it off. He or she knows you would feel short-changed if it were just left to your immune system to do its work.

Pencil-in [a date] (v.)
Provisional until one or other party gets a better offer. Jilly Cooper, a fine observer of British mores, once remarked that "Darling, let's do lunch" was how Chelsea women said goodbye.

Quantum leap (criticism/arts)
A universally abused expression from physics that has come to mean grand and radical. The Pauli Exclusion Principle states that no two elementary particles like electrons can have the same quantum numbers as they move between different energy states. The leap or jump between these states is a discontinuous process - but unimaginably tiny.

Aromatherapy (n.)
A tissue of nonsense complete with cute little bottles of essences and candle-powered china gizmos for evaporation. You can luxuriate in a warm bath scented with lovely perfumes. It's sensual and relaxing. But then a chocolate éclair is also pleasurable and has much the same therapeutic value.

Complementary medicine (n.)
Overlaps with alternative medicine, while sounding more benign as it explicitly acknowledges the role of orthodox medicine. However, it is a billion-dollar business run on ruthless capitalist lines.

Grounded (adj.)
Not insane. "Centred" can carry the same meaning.

Grow as a person (v. phrase)
This is a good thing to do. Growing as something else would not be so good.

Holistic (adj.)
Now something of an all-purpose New Age word, "holistic" was originally applied to medicine in the sense that the whole person, body and soul integrated into one, was to be treated. Now we can read of holistic management and even holistic rice.

Nature (n.), Natural (adj.)
The great literary critic William Empson identified eleven different meanings for "nature" and "natural" in King Lear. Webster's Dictionary has 14 definitions for the adjective "natural". Among other things, "natural" can mean appropriate, harmonious, fitting, free from artifice, organic, found in the environment, part of the order of things that should obtain, innocent, free from institutional convention, having a character specified by innate qualities, not man-made, not miraculous or supernatural, reflecting man's inner essence... Nature and natural's positive connotations are deployed by the copywriters of the New Age. "Natural" mineral water, for example, enjoys all the favourable meanings, though is natural only in the sense that the artifice of man kicks in after the environment has provided it for free. Arsenic is natural. So is HIV.

'The Dictionary of Bullshit' by Nick Webb is published by Robson Books, priced £9.99. To order with free p&p, call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897