I’ve always been – shall we say, sensitive? – to jargon. So when, not so long ago, I read a particular paragraph in the Guardian, I thought it might be worth blogging about some of the remarks and writings that I’ve copied down in a book I’ve kept for many years. The Guardian’s piece quoted a communication from an organisation called the Local Better Regulation Office, which read:
“We are hosting a master class to take local authorities through the process of developing outcomes and impacts dashboards against their developed pathways. The session will focus on local authorities who have gone through the process of developing their logic model, and now require additional expertise on how to develop indicators to measure achievements against outcomes.”
We all love language, the things it can do, the magic it can unlock or create, and when it’s mangled, strangled and kicked to death by committees, evasive politicians and people who should know better, it hurts and infuriates. On the other hand, the way it sometimes transcends the atrocities inflicted on it to suggest dimensions unsuspected by the speaker is delightful.
It would be too easy to take examples from all those eminent public speakers who, rather than having a command of language, were in constant conflict with it. Equally easy targets would be those “Instructions for use” translated from another language, such as the one for a toy car, which warned “on occasion by using it as pushcart for the toddling baby about 12 months since born, the leg comes into contact with the car’s speed and accordingly the baby may be overturned” or the cleaning fluid for glasses which suggested users should “apply less than one drop to both sides of the lens”.
But I prefer examples from people trying hard to make the words work for them. Like the engineering union official interviewed on the BBC who said “our members’ mood is one of very seriousness”. And these gems from a British soccer manager famous for his loquacity. Of his team’s disappointing position in the league, he said: “we cannot expunge the last 20 games. What we can say is as a result of the last 30 games, whatever the variables, excuses or praises one wishes to implicate, our position is as it is.” He also said of another team which just managed to avoid relegation and which we’ll call Acme United: “Only a very, very few people were aware of the demeanour of Acme in 1986. Reminiscent of the eerie old haunted house that had been empty for years and was begging for life. No different to the dodo. How joyful for them not to have acrimoniated in the non-league. How delightful for them to be making a success of defeating extinction. Let us hope we are all able to be pulmonic!” Another soccer manager – again British – whose team was winning 2-0 but ended up losing the match 3-2, remarked “As I see it, if you’re going to commit suicide, you don’t do it yourself.”
In fact, British sportspeople seem to have a gift for speaking English as if it’s a foreign language. One boxer claimed that “the British press hate a winner who is British. They don’t like any British man to have balls as big as a cow’s like I have.” A Formula One driver said wisely that “the proof of the pudding is in the clock”. One reputedly intelligent footballer’s contribution to the sum of human knowledge was “Football’s football; if that weren’t the case it wouldn’t be the game it is.” And yet another soccer manager, coaching a team in
who wanted to stay there because of his garden, told his interviewer: “Look at
that olive tree – 1000 years old. From before the time of Christ.” Spain
It goes on and on and on – but in each case, it’s words that provide the delights – even in my final example – perhaps the silliest of all. The first names of a succession of managers of one English soccer team in the
were: Don, Johnny, Ronnie, Ron, Ronnie, Ron, Ronnie, Ron, Johnny, Ron and Ron.
Maybe it just shows how sad I am that I have a book full of stuff like that which I’ve bothered to copy.