Government jargon leaves human beings out of the equation

Once again, the Local Government Association has published its annual list of words that public sector officials should avoid using, particularly when talking to real human beings.

Most of them bring back painful memories of the time I spent working for charities, and the interminable meetings which sapped my will to live.

I can’t bear to paste the actual words into my blog – I want to be careful who I attract as readers – but here’s a couple of pictures of the list…

(Scroll to the bottom for the point I want to make).

And number 2…

The official news story makes this point:

Just as it would be impossible for two IT professionals to speak to each other without using technical talk, it would be impossible for public sector experts to avoid using a degree of jargon.

I disagree. Technical talk isn’t the same thing as jargon – though there is certainly jargon in the technical world. For example, ‘Gigabyte’ isn’t jargon – it’s a technical term. On the other hand, ‘workflow’ is jargon – it’s a horrible name for a process.

And that’s what I hate about so much of public sector jargon – it simplifies human beings and makes them part of a process. And when that process becomes the end in itself – as in so many goverment-imposed targets (waiting lists, class sizes, etc, etc) – the human beings get left out of the equation.

‘Wellderly’. ‘Citizen touchpoints’. ‘Social exclusion’. ‘Community engagement’. Words and phrases like these turn our lives, loves and problems into something mechanical, that can supposedly be repaired or altered by a machine-like process.

And if, like me, you’ve spotted that many officials use jargon to think and that it shapes their view of the world – then little wonder so many of us get trapped in the cogs.

Don’t you think, dear stakeholder?

Copywriter: Ben Locker

Category: Blog, Words
Tags: avoid-government-jargon, example-of-copywriting-jargon, examples-government-jargon, examples-of-government-jargon, fridge-magnet-words, government, government-jargon, government-jargon-examples, importance-of-leaves, importance-of-leaves-to-human-beings, jargon, list-of-jargon-of-government-officials, local government, people-who-talk-in-government-jargon, the-uses-of-leaves-to-human-beings, what-are-the-use-of-leaves-to-human-beings, what-are-uses-of-leaves-human-being, when-government-officials-use-jargon, which-leaves-the-single-human-beeing-out

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9 Comments

  1. oooh ‘stakeholder’ hate that!

    Comment left by CopyChameleon on Friday 12th March, 2010 at 3:49 pm

  2. Excellent post, Ben. We once did a lot of work for a government department. Essentially as translators for reports written by management consultants. One admitted to me he had deliberately used jargon as a way of obscuring what a bad job he had done. *sigh*

    Comment left by Andy Maslen on Friday 12th March, 2010 at 4:00 pm

  3. Ben, I especially liked it that you took search engines into account and posted the non-words as an image :) But seriously, I think you’re quite right in suspecting that officialese will shape the minds of people running the system. It happens in my country as well.

    I think part of the jargon, as in any industry, comes from the industry’s need to internally describe certain concepts. The flip side, of course, is that once these internal terms are in place, the users forget that they are internal jargon. That is where the ordinary citizen gets shut out of the thinking.

    Comment left by Kimmo Linkama on Friday 12th March, 2010 at 4:26 pm

  4. Spot on. I remember doing advertorials for local council projects – never again. They really did seem to use jargon to distance themselves from the people-centred projects they were working on.

    And wtf is a predictor of beaconicity?

    Comment left by Rowena on Saturday 13th March, 2010 at 2:36 pm

  5. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by benlocker: *New blog* Government jargon leaves human beings out of the equation…. http://bit.ly/9wJY6n

    Trackback by uberVU - social comments on Saturday 13th March, 2010 at 4:51 pm

  6. [...] an intelligent post on jargon, courtesy of a copywriting friend of mine who recalls painful memories of working for charities [...]

    Pingback by Fridge magnet jargon | Writers and Artists on Friday 19th March, 2010 at 4:25 pm

  7. I work for a local authority, my job role is all about people, my new AD treats them like tins of baked beans (or something) whilst telling us we are putting people first. The jargon isn’t only distancing, it is a deceit, a strategy to avoid engaging because actually you are not putting people anywhere near first.

    Comment left by Helen on Saturday 27th March, 2010 at 3:23 pm

  8. P.S. As an example of something else really, a poor analagy, he told me that my local authority is like a crunchie bar because it has a golden centre but a bit of an old fashioned wrapper. That’s one of many, so told me he reminded me of David Brent, just wish he would do the dance. Where do these people come from?

    Comment left by Helen on Saturday 27th March, 2010 at 3:25 pm

  9. Sorry told him he reminded me…

    Comment left by Helen on Saturday 27th March, 2010 at 3:26 pm

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