Luke Blair: Time to cut the jargon

It is often said that the public sector talks a different language and I must say over the past few weeks I've heard earfuls of evidence to prove it.

Luke Blair: needs more INTJs
Luke Blair: needs more INTJs

From the 'interdependencies' of one project to the 'sustainabilities' of another, I've probably absorbed enough public sector jargon in the last month to fill a small dictionary, or should I say, ‘enough to sustain a representative but non-exhaustive monolingual data capture mechanism’.

And it's not just the spoken word. Some emails and documents I've received recently appear almost to have been infected by some kind of computer virus, turning my screen into programming gobbledygook where previously I expected to see English (UK).

I have found myself reading and re-reading some sentences, just wholly failing to understand what they are trying to say.

The thing about all this is, it's not just the language which becomes opaque - the thinking behind it gets affected too.

So jargon ends up being used by the public sector to shroud issues or problems in a way which – sometimes deliberately, sometimes subconsciously – makes them far more complicated to understand but crucially also makes them then harder to tackle. 

If it is difficult or complicated to describe, you can bet it sounds doubly difficult to do anything about it.

So ‘providing services in an integrated way across organisational boundaries to ensure better outcomes for the end user’ sounds challenging. A tricky job perhaps requiring organisational change and cultural realignment.

Or it could just be getting people from different organisations to work better together, which sounds a whole lot more straightforward.

Of course the communications profession is the first to plump for jargon if it feels itself in an uncomfortable position or otherwise lost for words. We all know lots of different ways of saying ‘no comment’ and who among us has not resorted to marketing speak in that difficult pitch moment when someone asks the question you were least expecting?

And communications professionals are just as guilty of allowing such jargon to so infuse their thinking, not just their language, that even the simplest things then seem too complicated or difficult to do.

A fellow jargonophobe told me this week for example he had been part of a recent conversation about rolling out some public sector campaign graphics in different parts of London.

It was heavy going for what should have been a simple conversation about a simple campaign and, eventually, someone actually said: ‘I'm not sure triangles will work in this part of London....people don't really understand them.’

But before I sound too smug about all this, I must admit to a slightly ridiculous jargon-based conversation myself this week about Myers Briggs types, the behavioural analysis system which reduces people to a collection of abbreviations representing personality types.

‘We need more INTJs!’ I found myself saying earnestly in a discussion with a particular project team.

A more down-to-earth colleague immediately retorted: ‘Don’t we just want more nice people who are good?’

Luke Blair is a director at London Communications Agency

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