Archive for April, 2007

Gov’t Speak

I’m in Washington, DC right now, talking to a lot of EPA staff and other “beltway insiders”. Most everyone I’ve talked to has been thoughtful and interesting and very nice. But I can’t help but notice some linguistic peculiarities, like a proclivity for the word “linkages”, which, like “utilize” is a sort-of-smarter-sounding stand-in for an equivalent, shorter word. I’ve also heard “systemic” as a replacement for systematic, which I guess is shorter, but it’s still irritating.

There are the acronyms, of course. Their use is understandable. You have a lot of multi-word office and program names you use all the time, you start abbreviating. But then you start communicating with a string of capital letters and I have to wonder, is anything really being said? I mean, even if I knew what all the acronyms meant, it seems like you would need some verbs and adjectives. In any case, I thought academics had a hard time accounting for the audience and defining acronyms where appropriate. It turns out we do pretty well compared to some government types who seem to forget they are using lingo at all.

There is also, it seems to me, rampant use of vague language to describe day-to-day activities, like “facilitate”, “connect”, “interface”, “vision”, and “leverage resources”, as in “Our vision is to liaise with many other offices and interface particularly closely with XYZ in order to facilitate collaboration and better leverage our resources.” I’m not sure which of my two theories about this is more disturbing: (1) that most of the time it’s expedient for agency officials to talk about their work in vague, buzzwordy language because, for instance, the lawyers and politicos they usually talk to eat it up, or (2) the majority of time is really spent on phone calls and meetings and other things that are most accurately described as “facilitating” and “liaising”.

I can credit everyone I’ve talked with so far for not resorting to the most cliche business lingo, like extraneously appending “moving forward” (meaning “in the future”) when the verb tense already implies that. No one has even mentioned synergy. But there is a lot of hogwash about strategic plans and long-term visions. If a year from now I start going on about how I’m leveraging resources to facilitate the goals in Administrator So and So’s YYZY plan for XZZ, I hope someone will kick me.

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