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?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: With 100 days still to go how will Cameron, Miliband and Co. keep us all engaged?

Andrew Grice
A solar energy farm in France  

Nature Studies: For all the attractions of solar power, it shouldn’t blight the countryside

Michael McCarthy
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea