Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gobbledygook again

Back in March last year, I wrote about the undoing of gobbledygook and the efforts of the Plain English Campaign to reduce it.

Last week, a report from Britain's local government association highlighted this problem in UK municipalities, and issued a list of 200 words and phrases it wants to see eliminated.

Autonomous benchmarking of best practices toward coterminous, holistic governance and stakeholder engagement... just does not cut it any more.

Fed up with the babble, waffle and impenetrable jargon beloved of politicians and middle-managers, Britain's local government association has drawn up a list of 200 words it wants public bodies to avoid if they are to communicate properly.

Gone should be terms or phrases such as "cascading" (sending an email around), "menu of options" (choices) and "predictors of beaconicity" (?), and in comes straight talk.

Instead of "transformational" just say "change," rather than "client" use "person" and avoid the confusion created by a phrase such as "distorts spending priorities" and just admit that whatever it is "ignores people's needs."

"Why do we have to have to have 'coterminous, stakeholder engagement' when we could just have 'talk to people' instead," said Margaret Eaton, the chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA).

"Councils have a duty, not only to provide value for money to local people, but also to tell people what they get for the tax they pay."

The banned words, taken from documents issued by the central government and public sector bodies, is being sent to council offices around the country to try to get everyone to be clear together, otherwise known as "consensually transparent."

. . .

While some of the phrases are laughable, the LGA says there's a serious point to simplifying language, believing that many people miss out on government services because they don't understand what's on offer.

"Unless information is given to people to explain what help they can get during a recession, then it could well lead to more people ending up homeless or bankrupt," said Eaton.

There's more at the link.

I wish someone would import this sort of campaign to the USA, and have our lawmakers and regulators - national, State and local - implement its recommendations. Let's take a couple of examples. According to one source, writing in 2006 about the US tax code:

By the way, if you go to the US Government Printing Office ( www.gpo.gov ), you can order a complete set of Title 26 of the US Code of Federal Regulations (that's the part written by the IRS), all twenty volumes of it, at the bargain price of $974, shipping included.

According to the US Government Printing Office, it's 13,458 pages in total. The full text of Title 26 of the United States Code (the part written by Congress--available for an additional $179) is a mere 3,387 printed pages, bringing the adjusted gross page count to 16,845.

According to one system of estimating word count, using their most conservative figure of 200 words per page (normally used for large print books, which the tax code certainly isn't!), that equates to almost 3½ million words! In reality, the word count is probably much higher, perhaps double that figure - and remember that since 2006, the tax code has only gotten bigger! Is it any wonder that we need an army of accountants and tax lawyers to figure out who owes what to whom?

Another source provides the following comparison of length (and hence complexity):

  • Pythagorean theorem: 24 words.
  • The Lord's prayer: 66 words.
  • Archimedes' Principle: 67 words.
  • The Ten Commandments: 179 words.
  • The Gettysburg Address: 286 words.
  • The Declaration of Independence: 1,300 words.
  • U.S. regulations on the sale of cabbage: 26,911 words.

Says it all, doesn't it? Let's hear it for simpler Government language!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, "prediction of baconicity" sounds like Breda is making pig candy again. Or is that the phrase used to cover up a large breakfast meeting conducted at the taxpayers' expense?

Seen on back of car "Eschew Terminological Obfuscation"