Why jargon is so dangerous

The increasing reliance on press offices by, in particular, public bodies such as local councils and the police has had a worrying effect on the flow of information to the public.

It is a big subject and I will return to it another time. But for now I just want to reflect on how they manipulate language to either promote or conceal their activities.

In their battle to win hearts and minds, the press, PR and marketing arms of organisations use a formidable weapon: jargon.

As the late, great Keith Waterhouse once said, jargon, like sex, is fine between consenting adults. It is a form of shorthand for experts communicating with each other. It is when they try to impose this language on others that it is intolerable, and even dangerous.

Journalists have traditionally been taught to guard against it. But they are failing in the face of staffing cuts in the newsroom and the ever-increasing volume of jargon being spewed out.

This is why in so many news reports we read phrases such as  “injuries incompatible with life” and “effective quality assurance of communication and engagement process”. The first example was from a report of a road accident, the second was taken from a witty and perceptive attack on gobbledygook in the Worcester News by my colleague James Connell.

“Gained access to the rear of the premises” is desk sergeant language. Write “got in through the back of the building”.

“There has been a positive uptake of applications for use of this recreational facility [gym]” is straight from the mouth of the local authority bureaucrat. In plain English we would say “lots of people have applied to use the gym”.

Jargon baffles the reader. And perhaps that is exactly what its originator intended. Professional communicators must guard against it.


About John Wilson

Editor of Hereford Times, Ludlow Advertiser, Stroud News and Journal, Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard and Gloucestershire Gazette series. Journalist for more than 30 years.
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