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English Language & Linguistics

English Language



Politician Hides The Truth ...

The use of jargon can disguise the bare truth. Whether the truth is hard to take in war (civilian deaths becomes collateral damage) or peace, (family death becomes passed away) or as in this case a project management cockup, the truth can be wrapped in euphemism or jargon.

Jargon Junkie Minister covers up sorry debacle in a language all his own.

This was the headline for an article by The Times sketch writer Ann Treneman published on January 15th 2014.
It's a good example of identifying the language used by the minister to disguise the bad management of, in this case, the Army's botched IT recruitment system.

Article extract:

It wasn’t long before I realised I needed a special decoder ring.

The first thing you need to know is that this is not an IT debacle. It is a “challenge” about “platforms”. The new Capita system was to integrate with the “legacy” Atlas platform. There is now a “reversion” to a “Capita-hosted solution”. It would cost £47.7 million. (That’s no solution, that’s a goldmine.)

Read the full text from Hansard.


What it really is How the minister phrased it
An IT debacle a challenge about platforms
Out of date legacy
Going backwards a reversion
Website Front end web application
More people on the job Additional manual resource
Sack people to harvest that saving

"We have put in place a number of workarounds and mitigation measures and we have reintroduced military personnel to provide manual intervention"

Other examples:

  • Hillingdon council, describing the closure of day centres for the disabled as "moves towards non building-based services"
  • Birmingham City Council, describing asking people to complain online instead of on the phone as "channel shift nudging".
  • Member of the prison service describing a riot as "an incident of concerted indiscipline."
  • "There will be an overall envelope of resources for operating costs which will be subject to a downward trajectory over time, representing efficiency."(Phillip Hammond, Defence Secretary, describing cuts)
  1. Describe in your own words how use of language techniques such as euphemism, jargon, circumlocution and obfuscation can hide an unacceptable truth.
  2. How can anything be done about this, especially when the words are uttered by someone responsible to the public?
  3. Is it possible to enforce the use of plain and honest English by public officials? If not, why not?



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