England & Wales

Jargon Busting


The LGA made a bit of a splash this morning with their list of 200 jargon phrases that they believe councils should avoid using complete with plain English translations alternatives.

Now first of all, let me say that I think this is a good idea. Obviously all public bodies should try and communicate with people in a way that is easy to understand.

And I say this as someone who is still smarting from a recent (and deeply unfair of course) suggestion that I should attend a plain English course.

But I can’t help feeling that the LGA are missing an important distinction here.

Surely there is a difference between impenetrable management jargon and difficult but meaningful words?

The former makes exact meaning harder to discern, the latter make it clearer.

The LGA list does not recognise this distinction and this is exacerbated (sorry, made worse) by the ‘translations’ they give for some of these words.

I’m aware that I may come across as hugely pedantic but autonomous and independent, thematic and theme, or sustainable and long term just don’t mean the same thing.

In each case the more ‘complicated’ word adds a precision of meaning that the plain English alternative lacks.

Now I’m not suggesting that local authorities should stuff their publications with obscure, polysyllabic (oops) terminology, of course communications should be designed to be accessible to their target audiences. But there is sometimes a trade off between accessibility and precision. That’s a trade off that may be well worth making, but let’s be clear that we’re doing it and not just pretend that all ‘jargon’ is equally meaningless.