The jargonauts

First used in the 14th century, “jargon” has meant the
twittering or chattering (of birds), unintelligible or meaningless
talk or writing, nonsense and gibberish. From 1651, “jargon” has
been “applied contemptuously to the language of scholars, the
terminology of a science or art, or the cant of a class, sect,
trade or profession.”

Not had a good press then.

So why do people write things like this (from a memo anonymously
passed to me): “In addition, from August I am intending to set up a
‘diagonal slice’ Children’s Services ‘focus’ group to act as a
forum to consult and sound out as the re-alignment

In essence, people do it to give the impression they know what
they’re talking about and to sound important. Connected with this
is the fear of a loss of standing.

Social work considers itself a profession. And all professions need
the exclusivity that language (and other things such as
qualifications) can bring. And with the profession under fire, it
needs to batten down the hatches. And jargon can be

So plain English, and its flag-bearers, have become the enemy. I’ve
trained over 1,000 health and social care staff, signalling to them
that plain English is your friend. Some remain unconvinced. One
says: “Anyone with a modicum of common sense can understand what I
write.” Ho hum. Another says: “Well, the problem with plain English
is that it’s not grammatically correct.”

I remember an independent inspector once refusing a contract
because she said she would be made to write in small words (we
wrote everything in plain English) and this would undermine her
professionalism. Others say they feel awkward using plain words
because they think colleagues in other services will think less of

One way around this is for the department to issue a policy
statement saying that all public items must be written in plain
English. A statement could also be put on letters – something like:
“We believe that all our public information should be in plain
English. If you think we can improve this in any way, please let us

This would serve three functions: first, an everyday reminder of a
commitment to plain English, encouraging staff to think about how
they write; second, it spells out the policy for others,
encouraging them not to think of you as a simpleton, and may even
inspire them to do likewise; and it encourages the public to
comment on the readability of information they have received.

This might, just might, lead us to communication’s golden fleece
and sink the not-so-good ship Jargon, leaving all hands dead.
Sorry, terminally inconvenienced.

Wholly unacceptable

“A draft table in a Community Care Plan showed how 15 popes [it
meant “people”] had acquired their HIV infection: 33% heterosexual
sex; 33% sex with same sex partner; 33% IV drug misuse.”

Thanks to our anonymous contributor. Contributions welcome.
Please send them to

Initial inquiries welcome

Job advert for a practice supervisor.

“The post is within PCM Team dealing with long term CLA and CP
cases. An interest in the development of QP targets for CLA and IT
skills would be beneficial.”

From Devon County Council’s “Jobs” bulletin dated 1 July

Thanks to our anonymous contributor. Please send contributions

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