Campaign for Plainer Newspeak

Anyone who sits through meetings ticking off phrases like “leveraging” and “best practice” on a secret bingo card recognises how vile office language can be. All the same, the Local Government Association’s list of words that should be banned on Plain English grounds is a bit crazy.

LGA chairman Margaret Eaton said: “The public sector must not hide behind impenetrable jargon and phrases.”

I think there’s a minor Fail, right there. “The public sector” is not exactly Not-Jargon, is it? The BBC even had to help her out a bit by saying “national and local government” in the next sentence, so readers who are unfamiliar with official jargon would know what she meant. And, surely, many people wouldn’t understand the word “impenetrable”

I’m all for the principle of officials explaining what they mean. The actual list of banned words has some stinkers but there are many phrases there that would be hard to replace.

Banning some of these words would make entire branches of knowledge invisible. I have to assume that “downstream”, “lever”, “fulcrum”, “toolkit,” “seedbed”, “mechanism” are banned for metaphorical use only. Otherwise car maintenance, physics, geography and gardening are all in trouble.

Some of the other words seem to have no reasonable alternatives. They would have to be replaced by a couple of explanatory sentences, which surely wouldn’t help to make them clearer:
Ambassador. Welcome. Area based. Capacity. Customer. Client. Agencies. Flex. Vision.

I defy anyone to describe an ambassador without using the forbidden A word itself or some much more complicated and incomprehensible formulation that refers to vice-counsels and international relations. Without referring to “protocol”, because that’s on the list.

Welcome – argh. Depends on the context. I can’t really think of any way to say “Welcome to X Council” that isn’t either longer or less welcoming. If you have to greet an ambassador then you really are in Plain English trouble,.

Area based: Erm, erm…. Set in a place. (Am tying myself in mental knots to avoid saying geographical. “Set” is a rubbishy choice anyway, though, but I can’t say focussed. I think it’s on the list.)

Customer – erm, “person who buys things or gets some sort of service”. (Can’t cheat and say “client”. That’s on the list.)

Outcomes was so bad they named it twice. I’ll assume that was a typo, because it doesn’t seem like a major offender. “Results” is only one letter shorter and I’m sure that most people could guess that they mean roughly the same thing from the context.

And what about “sustainable” and “freedoms”? It usually takes 3,000 word undergraduate essays to start to explain these concepts. Are council workers going to have to precis them.