Can we have an i-conversation about words that get your goat?

The English language – it’s words a-go-go, synonyms galore. It’s a crazy world in that-there dictionary and sometimes people go a bit bonkers.

Deployed with care or flair, English is a tool that can achieve wonderful things. But it can’t actually work magic. If something is not that exciting you can call it whatever you like but it’ll still be less than thrilling. You are effectively putting the proverbial on a pig.

Alas, the public sector is a regular culprit when it comes to hijacking jargon and buzzwords. But only once they’ve passed their sell-by-date.

Whenever you see one of these terms appear on a council or NHS webpage, it’s a clear indication that the trend is already dead:

Conversation – Organisations up and down the land want to “have a conversation” with you. Why they can no longer talk or speak to us I have no idea. It’s supposed to sound friendly but to my ears it has the ring of something a sandal-wearing counsellor would say just before I smacked him or her in the jaw. There is a limit to how much I can be patronised and this is probably it.

Create a narrative – A fancy way of saying “tell a story” which is dangerously close to saying “making stuff up” or, you know, “lying”.

Experience – (See also journey.) This used to be called “going to the doctors” or “doing jury service”. Now, it’s an “experience”. You can no longer just have your warts frozen off or your leg amputated in peace; you’re having a “patient experience” whether you like it or not. The only thing I experience when asked “how my experience was today” is boiling fury.

Hub – In the olden days these used to be called centres. Now anywhere where people do stuff is called a sodding hub. Libraries? That’s an information hub to you my friend! This wouldn’t be all bad, though, if the NHS renamed A&E departments Time-Waster Hubs.

i- – Sticking an “i” in front of everything makes it look dead modern doesn’t it? More often than not you look like your dad dancing at a wedding.

Journey – You might think you’re just noodling about online but you could well be on a journey! Think you’re just paying your council tax? Think again! You’re actually on a “customer journey”. Please bear in mind, however, that when you are actually travelling, you are, in fact, probably “enjoying” a “passenger experience” (see experience above). No, I don’t know either.

Pop-up – This sounds super-exciting and frisky doesn’t it? Sorry, it’s merely a tarted-up way of saying “temporary”. If something described as “pop-up” turns out to be useless pop-up emerges as a polite way of saying “here today, gone tomorrow”, or even “fly by night”. The Scarlet Pimpernel would probably be called the Scarlet Pop-up these days.

Start-ups – No-one starts working for themselves or opens a new business any more, instead they’re conjuring a start-up out of thin air, probably whilst sitting in a café that has mismatched chairs and a menu on a blackboard. Don’t ask me at what point they stop being start-ups. I haven’t a clue, I’m just here being sarcastic about the terminology.

Wellbeing – A seemingly interminable no-man’s land across which you need to drag yourself before you can claim to be properly ill. What does it mean? Who knows? It seems to be the dernier cri in indolent comms catch-alls, covering everything from staving off diabetes to owning a dog, from getting off the bus a stop earlier to eating a shedload of nuts. Since it was incorrectly divested of its hyphen I want nothing at all to do with it. Thank you.

Zones – These were things that used to be confined to the London Underground map or were places where you could park your car, or even a swathe of scorched jungle across the middle of Vietnam. Now they are anywhere where crazy stuff happens. Whoo-hoo! If you want to get down with the kids, call something a zone and they will be all over it! (Heads-up: they’re not daft; they can smell a flat-fizzy-pop-and-ping-pong youth club from miles away.)

Louise Powney is a communications officer in local government.

First published at comms2point0, a learning and sharing space for comms professionals, by comms professionals, on 22 August 2016

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