Tamsin Constable

Disguise, distract, drown, dazzle

Got something to hide? Here’s how to hoodwink your readers. Disguise the problem with a cloak of jargon. Dazzle your readers with impenetrable language. Drown it in verbosity. Distract with gobbledygook.

The UK Government Department responsible for universities follows these guidelines, the Independent reported this week. MPs have accused the department of peppering its reports with “jargon-riddled phrases” and “euphemisms deflecting likely failure”.

The Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills, say MPs on the Commons select committee that monitors it, uses jargon to mask the fact that it has no clear idea about its policy direction. Publications include “impenetrable” language “peppered with jargon”. Its annual report, for example, includes this sentence: “An overarching national improvement strategy will drive up quality and performance underpinned by specific plans for strategically significant areas of activity, such as workforce and technology.”

When challenged to translate this paragraph, Ian Whatmore, the Department’s Permanent Secretary, admitted that he couldn’t. Here’s my attempt: “We need a way of doing things better. This will help us do things better. In particular, we plan to do things better for workers and technology.” As often happens, once you drill down through jargon, what’s left can often be all puff and no substance. Ian Whatmore admitted that the annual report was “inaccessible.” He said he’d bring in the Plain English people sooner next year.

Off I scoot.

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