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How banning goldfish bowl-facilitated conversations among council workers will stop us going round in circles; Welsh public bodies are the worst offenders when it comes to jargon.

Byline: Kathryn Williams

EVER been invited to a goldfish bowl-facilitated conversation to discuss the tonality of a webinar? Or discovered a series of disbenefits affecting the wellderly as a result of a trialogue? It's quite possible that you have - without realising it.

All those terms - and dozens more - have been listed among a host of banned phrases issued to council workers amid fears about the growing use of meaningless jargon.

Most ludicrous among them are the goldfish bowl-facilitated conversation - meaning to discuss something while sitting in a circular pattern - and tonality - which simply refers to an item's meaning.

Published annually by the Local Government Association, the list takes words from the European Union, central government, quangos, regional government, business management-speak and public relations phrases.

Welsh Conservative MP David Davies said that he was in support of restricting use of jargon, and pinpointed the Assembly Government as one of the UK's worst culprits.

The Monmouthshire MP said: "Most government reports are just jargon and it affects the way people speak. It's even been known for some cynical backbenchers to play 'jargon bingo' where they wait for the particular MP to say 'sustainability' or one of the other common words.

"It's great when we can whisper to each other, 'I didn't understand that did you?'" According to the Speak Plain English Campaign, Welsh organisations have a long way to go when it comes to uncomplicated communication in comparison to the rest of the UK and Scotland.

The organisation accepted that Cardiff council had led the way for Welsh local authorities in recent years for simplifying its language, but said there was still room for improvement.

Chrissie Maher, founder of Plain English Campaign said: "Council departments need to step out of their goldfish bowl-facilitated conversation - whatever that means - and give the public a fair chance of understanding council information, by using plain English."

The campaign notes that many local government offices and councils sometimes "tick the box" by repeating the language of their bosses in order to comply with budgetary applications and assessments.

They then pass the language to the public with no further clarification. David Crystal, honorary professor of linguistics at Bangor University, said jargon only becomes a problem if it is being used to address people who do not understand it.

He said: "There' nothing wrong with technical or specialised vocabulary, per se.

"The problem is when people use this vocabulary to an audience that doesn''t share their background.

That is when the words are criticised as jargon, and rightly so. What is needed is a translation exercise, with people rephrasing their material to suit the perceived audience need."

A spokeswoman for the campaign added: "If the experts and specialists have trouble understanding the language of their world, how dare they expect the public to swallow it without question? "Councils that have taken successful action to achieve clearer public communications, have started with the full support of those at the top. Rather than just a list of banned words there needs to be a commitment to a change in the communication culture, both internally for council employees and for external communications with the public."

Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black said that institutions should make changes to the complicated terminology they are using.

"I have been in meetings where councillors and council officers have addressed the public using jargon and I've had difficulty knowing what they are talking about," he said.

"They are using this complicated language because it is their specialist subject. All levels of government don't usually communicate that well with the public about what they are doing. People feel alienated."

Mr Black also said that the use of acronyms needed to be cut back.

"I've picked up official documents and they are full of them. Why they can't use plain English I don't know," he said.

Sexist remnants Letters that begin "Dear Sir/ Madam" and references to "Mr and Mrs" are both remnants of "sexist thinking", according to psychologists.

In the written word at least, men still come first - just as they did centuries ago, say researchers.

The claim is supported by the results of scientific studies, they argue.

Dr Peter Hegarty, who led a team from the University of Surrey, said: "In the 16th century, naming men before women became the acceptable word order to use because of the thinking that men were the worthier sex.

"This grammar has continued with 'Mr and Mrs', 'his and hers' and the names of romantic couples like Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

"While the original sexist ideas behind this grammar are no longer accepted, we wanted to investigate whether the sexist habit of male names coming before female names still holds true and the psychological reasons why this might be."

Office jargon - the latest addition Trialogue - A conversation, involving three people Wellderly - People who are old but neither infirm or unwell Goldfish-bowl facilitated conversation - A conversation or meeting in which the participants sit in a circle Tonality - The meaning of something Webinar - A meeting that is conducted over the internet Under-capacitated - Having too little money Clienting - Discussing something with the public Disbenefits - The negative results of a policy

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 15, 2010
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