Jason and the Jargonauts

Welcome to an occasional column seeking to expose purveyors of social care gobbledygook

● We are surrounded by pompous language. Like love, it is all around. On a journey to a conference on commissioning services, my preparations for the linguistic delights that were assuredly awaiting me were repeatedly punctuated by examples. For example, trains do not “have” eight coaches or carriages, they “are formed of” them. Long gone are the toothbrush-moustachioed ticket inspectors. They have been replaced by something entirely more sinister: revenue protection staff.

Out of the window, I noticed an advertisement for a beauty product, which scientifically explained what its anti-oxidants got up to. Ever since, I have been waking up in the middle of the night sweating, worrying whether or not my free radicals have been sufficiently neutralised.

● Safely settled into my conference seat, I felt warm in the knowledge that I was to be massaged in good old relaxing social care jargon. But I didn’t suspect the nautical onslaught that shipped up. One speaker navigated us through “burning decks” (a crisis), despite having “huge tankers to turn around” (things that might take a bit of time to achieve).

To be fair, she also docked into the deli counter of metaphor, saying that when it came to budgetary reconfiguration (why don’t we say “cuts” any more?) we, in social care, were very good at “salami slicing” (taking bits of various budgets).

Elsewhere, a Department of Health speaker wasted little time in unleashing a “cross government agenda”. This always makes me smile: what would an agenda for a cross or angry government look like?

Best line of the day, though, was unwittingly delivered by another government official. Discussing the problem of overweight children, she asked: “Can we be sure when it comes to child obesity that we are punching our weight?”

● As for the notion of “commissioning” itself, I remain none the wiser. Wikipedia, the people’s on-line encyclopaedia, lists about 25 types of commissioner (including high, police, federal, fire), none of which, as far as I can detect, has anything to do with social or health care services. The speakers tried very hard to engage and inspire me about their work and worth. But I fear it was always going to be (com)mission impossible.

Want to expose jargon? Send examples to jason.jargon@virgin.net

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