Saturday, November 27, 2010

British council urges staff to ditch jargon

We read:
"It is the language that clutters council newsletters and documents like weeds strangling a flower bed, but one local authority wants to put a stop to jargon, and bring back plain, simple English.

Pompous words such as "facilitate" and "utilise" should be replaced by their shorter, more common versions "help" and "use", the council has said.

Meaningless phrases such as "close proximity" and "forward planning" should be shelved, while the phrase that has become ubiquitous over the last decade – "stakeholder engagement" – should be replaced with the far more straightforward "talking to people".

The guide, which Conwy Council in North Wales is considering adopting, said: "People need to understand what we are telling them. A whole language has been developed around council documents that the press refers to as council speak or ‘council-ese’. It doesn’t make our documents seem more important – just more confusing."

Dressing up policies and documents with long words and jargon frequently hides the fact that the local council officers do not understand what they are saying, it added.

The advice said: “Avoid old fashioned words and phrases. These can seem pompous and bureaucratic and set a cold, impersonal tone.” It urges active rather than passive sentences such as please tell us instead of you are requested.

Conwy is not the first council to attempt to cut a swathe through officialese, but many previous attempts have been thwarted by central Government legislation, which frequently introduces new terms, such as "sustainable communities". Studies have also suggested many council workers fear using simple English because they think they will be accused of "dumbing down".

The Local Government Association has published a list of more than 250 words that councils should never use in public documents, including "engagement", "embedded", "challenge", "low-hanging fruit", "top down", "step change" and "actioned" – words that many councils continue to use in their literature.

Despite the admirable suggestions about how its staff can use simpler English, the document itself is couched in the councilese Conwy urges its officers to avoid using. One sentence runs: "Many of the community involvement techniques set out in the matrix are research tools that can provide you with either reliable measurements and/or detailed qualitative information."



Anonymous said...

Is someone actually suggesting doing away with the real reason for this type of language, which is of course, political correctness?

Malcolm said...

Political correctness might be one effect, but the real reason is simpler. It is best described in the film, The Yellow Submarine, where a character who always spoke in rhyme said:
"If I spoke prose,
You'd soon find out
I don't know what
I talk about."

Anonymous said...

It has something to do with the "texting" language.

The shorter the better and the hell with correct spelling and grammar.

I do not text and I do not own a mobile (cellphone).

Some one wants me they have THREE options:

1) Knock on my door. Not home? Push a note through the letter-slot.

2) Poat me a detailed letter.

3) Ring my land-line. I have a message recorder attached, which I usually check twice a day.

If it's a real emergency ring 999 or 911. I am not a doctor, policeman or fireman.

Anonymous said...

It is in fact, an absurd addiction to all things PC. And yes, political correctness can (and has) changed how we speak, think, and act. It is simply an indication of how weak-minded we really are.