Philip Hensher: On a fast track to joined-up thinking

Jargon is how the professions like to distinguish themselves

Share
Related Topics

As we at
The Independent – ambassadors for a can-do-culture – go forward in the direction of travel, we constantly champion meaningful dialogue which both engages service-users and promulgates process-driven, tested-for-soundness collaboration. An evidence-based, area-focused vision of customer empowerment will bring edge-fit multi-disciplinary fulcrums downstream, and fast-track benchmark predictors of beaconicity. And when we've done that, we're all going down the pub.

The Local Government Association has circulated a list of 200 words and expressions which, it says, are far too prevalent in management speak. Few people not professionally implicated in local administration understand these terms. The LGA says, very truly, that public bodies should not hide behind impenetrable expressions; that the public should understand what they do, and why they do it. And if you can't understand what they are saying, you can't understand their purpose. The list is a step in the right direction.

It makes interesting reading. Some of it is merely teeth-grinding, as in "area-based", "core value", "level playing field" or our favourite Blairite piece of verbiage, "challenge". Dead metaphors abound; "downstream", "horizon-scanning", "joined-up thinking", "fast-track". Some of it has no obvious meaning at all: "coterminous", "network model", or "performance network".

And some seem explicitly designed to replace perfectly ordinary English words and expressions with what can only be described as a sub-dialect of the language. The chair of the LGA asks, "Why do we have to have 'coterminous, stakeholder engagement' when we could just 'talk to people' instead?"

Anyone who has sat through a professional meeting of any sort in the last decade or two will be able to supply their own list of expressions. Most of them are metaphors of some sort. You can imagine that one quite inventive mind gave birth to each of them at some point. They were taken up by colleagues, repeated until they lost all poetic charm, and now seem to mean almost nothing. The person who first referred to a problematic task as like "herding cats" was a sort of genius, a P.G.Wodehouse of the boardroom. By now, we would rather never hear it again.

A game has sprung up to deal with some of these awful business metaphors, known as Bullshit Bingo. You print out cards with a dozen administrative clichés on it, and tick them off as they come into your meeting. Playing hardball; blue-sky thinking; roadmap; ballpark; etched in stone; low-hanging fruit; reinventing the wheel; brain storm and mind shower; and, of course, thinking outside the box. What box? What on earth does that refer to?

Of course, since the beginning of time, priestly or professional castes have sought to distinguish themselves from the unwashed masses by talking in ways which only they can understand. To talk about "horizon scanning" or "blue-sky thinking" is both to send a message to a potential fellow member of the caste, and to erect a barrier against the mass of the public who can only speak in ordinary ways, who has the bad luck to be generally comprehensible.

My favourite piece of jargon? I heard an arts administrator refer, recently, to a "literature delivery system". I think she meant a library, a bookshop, or perhaps just a book. But I didn't understand, and I don't think I was meant to.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A press image from the company  

If men are so obsessed by their genitals, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities of sex?

Chloë Hamilton
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory