Jason and the jargonauts

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

● “Global IT consultancy and agile software development specialist ThoughtWorks” has teamed up with the NSPCC and ChildLine. Well, I am glad they are agile can you imagine the havoc a “clumsy” software specialist could wreak at the NSPCC?

They’re getting together “to facilitate the development of a critical technology update which involves rebuilding their mission-critical databases.” Which means that the NSPCC and Childline are merging their databases.

But being IT, they’re doing it by “adopting agile development processes throughout the rest of the project”. A look on Wikipedia only serves to confuse as it emphasises the role of “iteration” – a unit of time – in agile development.

Now, I always thought that “iteration” was something to do with reggae as in “ire-ation”, “botheration” or “aggravation”. For a moment, I was dreaming of Lee Scratch Perry dubbing down to the NSPCC sound.

Sadly, the explanation is far more prosaic. “Each iteration passes through a full software development cycle: including planning, requirements analysis, design, coding, testing, and documentation. At the end of each iteration, the team re-evaluates project priorities.”

Which sort of vaguely sounds like normal practice when introducing something new. But this is the world of IT and we must all be confused.

● We know gobbledygook can mystify and confound service users and their families. But what happens when service user jargon confuses practitioners?

At a conference last week on children in care, Ann Hunter, clinical consultant with Keys Childcare, highlighted one of the problems of the generation gap.

Talking about the need for practitioners to build long-term relationships with young people, Ann owned up to her ignorance of certain children’s phrases: particularly her young friends on the Wirral saying that they were off to get a “nudger”. Ann asked the congregated social care workers whether they knew what a “nudger” was? Apparently it’s “long and soft” – if you’re lucky.

There were many embarrassed looks and comments about it being rather rude. Ann said she didn’t have a clue until one of the children told her that in other parts of the country it is called a “torpedo” or “submarine” ie a bread roll for a snack.

Huge sighs of relief.

However, the language gap can work the other way. Last week, I was at Comcare Towers showing a trainee journalist the subs’ (as in sub-editors not bread rolls) guide to legendary headlines and came across one from the Independent: “Dutch to put cap on price rises.”

I said to my young charge: “That’s the sort of tabloidy, jokey headline that we sub-editors dream about getting away with on Com Care.”

But the young man drew a blank.

I explained the juxtaposition of “Dutch” and “cap” but nope, still no recognition. “Come on, a Dutch cap,”.

“What’s a Dutch cap?”

“You might know it as something else – like diaphragm,” I mumbled before crawling back to work.

And just to show even the best of us can make fools of ourselves, a few years ago I sparked much ribaldry when asking a female colleague: “Why’s there this craze for women to have Brazilian haircuts?”

Send in your confusing gobbledygook or service user language to keith.sellick@rbi.co.uk

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