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One of my passions is clear, simple language. Jargon dominates many public policy discussions and I’m compiling a list of examples here.
The Local Government Association of England has clearly surpassed my meager list. They have compiled 100 banned words and phrases, released to coincide with Plain English Day 2007. The puffery and euphemisms include:
- place shaping
- sustainable communities
“… unless local authorities talk to people in a language that they can understand then the work they do becomes inaccessible and reduces the chances of them getting involved in their local issues,” said Chairman of the Local Government Association, Sir Simon Milton. On a BBC interview, an LGA representative joked that public officials who use these terms should be fined.
Simon Wakeman, a fellow PR consultant in England, carries a good analysis of public policy jargon and the list of 100 “non-words.”
“The challenge for those who work in communications in local government is that most communications don’t come through the professional communicators,” Wakeman writes. “Getting standards to the same level across the organisation needs a different set of skills and the ability to network effectively – to get non-communicators to communicate more effectively and act as a champion of plain English.”
That’s as true in Idaho as it is in England.
One of my passions is simple, clear language. As a former (and still occasional journalist), I delighted in cutting through pretense, bombast and cliches. Journalism and public policy circles are especially good places to find bad language, with terms like “totally destroyed” (as opposed to only slightly destroyed?), “brutal axe murder” (as opposed to a gentle axe murder?) and “grim task.” Main Street and Wall Street are a perfect storm of cliches and when the honeymoon is over I swear I’ll throw someone under a bus.
Bad language shows up a lot in consumer marketing and public relations. Here are some examples of “pretense enhancement mechanisms,” a fancy word for puffery:
Dog food called a “nutrient management system.”
A church called a “community worship center.”
Bathroom soap called a “hand cleansing system.”
A prison called a “correctional institution.”
A trailer park called a “landscaped community.”
Toiler paper called a “personal hygiene system.”
Cow dung called “diary nutrients.”
A birth called a “pregnancy outcome.”
Mechanics called “service technicians.”
Torture called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
Toothpaste called an “oral hygience maintenance system.”