Jamieson Continues Campaign Against Newspeak

Yesterday, allmediascotland.com reproduced an article by Bill Jamieson, associate editor of The Scotsman, which criticised some of the ‘newspeak’ vocabulary which is beginning to infiltrate Scottish life. We promised Bill’s follow-up, which was published in The Scotsman last week. Here it is. And it is likely to be the latest episode of a continuing series, in both The Scotsman and here, on AMS.

My recent column on contemporary Newspeak (‘How We are Divided by a Common Language’, January 15) has brought a deluge of responses from readers. Clearly, the buzzword lexicon has come to invade all quarters of Scottish life. It is impossible to do justice to all the suggestions received, but here are some highlights.

Typical of the responses was this, from Frank Black, of East Linton: “I enjoyed your Between the Lines column. It brought back happy memories of my time as an official in local government, which is up there with the best of them when it comes to buzzword bingo.

“Some of us used to play it (I hope undetected) at meetings of Highland Council. Obviously, we couldn’t shout out when our card was full. Possibly worse than czars/tsars were ‘champions’, which reminded me of the adjective ‘people’s’, added to certain posts to make them appear more acceptable to the public.

“As well as mission statements, position statements were common. I suggested to our chief executive that we should perhaps have a missionary position statement, even offering a wording, but this was not well received.”

This, from Barry Hughes: “One you missed is evidence-based policy. Intended to sound precise and quasi-scientific, but is in reality policy supported by carefully selected ‘policy-based evidence’.” These, from James Murray: “Proactive: should have been dealt with years ago. Consensus: It was getting late and the escort service employees are waiting. Steps have been taken: A meeting has been scheduled. Useful exchange of views: We could not agree on anything.”

This, from John Thomson: “In the ether. Don’t know what it means, but it must be good if Gordon Brewer of Newsnight Scotland uses it.”

Barry Hughes alighted on a particularly irritating species of Newspeak: “Titular aggrandisement, particularly the use of buzzwords such as ‘community’ and ‘development’ in local authority job titles. So we have arts development officers and path development officers and a whole pathetic plethora of development officers through every service of local authorities.

“There is nothing that my local arts development officer does that her arts officer predecessors did not do. It does not communicate her function any better to the public. Almost every ‘development’ job description is redundant. And most of the ‘community’ job descriptions as well. These are of plague proportions: community recycling officer, community traffic warden (unbelievable but true).”

Another buzzword that exercises Mr Hughes (and many others, I suspect) is Connectivity. He says: “In most contexts this means, and can be replaced by, ‘communications’. In a Scottish Executive publication last year meant for general consumption, Small Country Big Plans we read: ‘How can the National Planning Framework help to maintain and enhance
Scotland’s internal connectivity in a sustainable way?'”

This, from Lorna Goudie: “Lessons to be learned: Used after every fiasco. Which lessons, I wonder, and learned by whom? Bite-sized pieces: Is there no-one capable of learning by studious hard work?”

These, from Gayle Howard of Stirling: “Partnership working: An excuse to hold interminable meetings all going over the same ground. No-one takes responsibility for anything. Over-arching: A trendy word for ‘overall’. Usually accompanied by large hand movements to indicate the wideness of the action. Trajectory: Always thought this applied to missiles rather than targets. We had to look this one up in the dictionary and we still don’t understand how it substitutes for the word ‘target’.”

This week’s graphic is an example of a Jim Mather ‘mind map’, defined as “a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks or other items linked to and arranged radially around a central key word or idea”. It is more widely understood in Scotland as an utterly baffling maze of buzzwords conveying the enterprise minister’s love of doodle. A tame example of the Mather Tautological School (the artist’s ‘Blue Period’) is reprinted here from the Scottish Government’s recent economic paper. Note the centrepiece classic “overarching purpose”. Any the wiser?

Finally, thank you to the public relations person who sent me a press release from DEM Solutions, which defines itself as “a global leader in discrete element modelling software and services”. After a visit to the website, I’m none the wiser.

More, please, to Bill Jamieson, here.

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