Put the jargon in the bin!

Suggest your favourite jargon to place in the bin! (see comment box at end of page)

Hate jargon?  Here’s the place to get some anti-jargon therapy.One or two early posts on this blog had a crack at irritating jargon used by our public servants .  The scope to clutter up the main flow of Helpgov’s helpful blog is as large as the flow of written and spoken communication from the people we pay for.

To keep that flow clear but to acknowledge and record the horrors this is the jargon bin, full of (mainly) public sector perpetrations.

We can all use jargon without thinking.  It’s obviously acceptable with colleagues as a technical shorthand.  But we need to think before we use it for a wider audience.

The serious point is that jargon:

  • uses more words than needed
  • obscures meaning
  • leads to ambiguity and misunderstanding
  • patronises and annoys people
  • makes public service ineffective
  • belittles the work of those who perpetrate it.

Enjoy our alphabetical list of jargon as it builds up.  Some phrases are listed more than once.  Jargon perpetrators rarely stop at one word (e.g “optimal end-game”).  Comments or suggestions for  examples of jargon you want to share are very welcome (see bottom of page).



ability spectrum, lower end of the = less able

  • Students often struggle to understand why George shoots Lennie [in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men] particularly at the lower end of the ability spectrum – senior English teacher on the BBC web site 25 March 2011


Barnett consequences = change in funding from the UK government

  • We will pass on any Barnett consequences from an increased health budget in England to the health service in Scotland – Nicola Sturgeon Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, BBC Radio Scotland Good Morning Scotland programme 3 August 2010

binary [as in “binary situation”] = two groups

  • It’s a very binary situation – Helena Morrissey of Newton Asset Management, commenting on the proportion of women on FTSE 100 company boards on BBC Radio 4 Today programme 1 September 2011 [i.e. companies fall into two groups]

bladed weapon = knife

  • the men were armed with a bladed weapon – statement by Grampian Police on an armed robbery, 17 October 2011

boolean = and, or, not

  • You can use boolean terms (and, or, not) to adjust your search results. For example, a search for Spending OR Review will find all pages containing either Spending, Review or both – HM Treasury web site search page (the word boolean has a precise mathematical meaning but is completely un-necessary in this context)

bronze commander = in charge on the ground

  • Routine incidents are dealt with locally and there is an emergency and there is a bronze commander – former Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, Radio 4 Today programme 18 July 2012 [one of innumerable examples  of the use without explanation of the police shorthand of ‘bronze, silver and gold commanders’]


carriageway defects = road faults

  • Innumerable examples, including “Between September 2010 and August 2011 roads teams repaired over 38,000 carriageway defects” – Aberdeenshire Council web site 17 October 2011

cohort = group

  • The main applicant cohort [for university and college places] is still young people – Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, Radio 4 Today programme 16 July 2010

connectional purposes = so you can change trains

  • Hi, they are point to point tickets and break of journey is only for connectional purposes @ScotRail tweet 14 June 2012

critical mass, retains = is big enough

  • The Crown Estate’s investment strategy concentrates on its key sectors where it retains critical mass and specialist expertise  letter from the Crown Estate to the Scottish Parliament Rural Affairs, Environment and Climate Change Committee 18 October 2013

curated = chosen

  • On tonight’s The Jazz House there’s another chance to hear the special programme curated by Ian Rankin, BBC Radio Scotland twitter feed 27 June 2012
  • Christmas curated for you at city museums and galleries, Edinburgh City Council media release, 25 November 2013

curve, ahead of the = ahead of the times or of the schedule

  • We need to be ahead of the curve on jobs [in planning future energy supply] – Caroline Flint MP, Question Time, BBC 1 24 October 2013


deliver on = deliver

  • The Government is acting in concrete ways to deliver on its commitment to localism, growth and the Big Society – UK Department of Communities and Local Government consultation paper on best value April 2011

discount summarily = reject, dismiss

diving, deep = a brainstorming technique

  • Next Steps: Engagement with Partners.  Deep Dives (autumn 2011)…Findings from the Deep Dives will then be fed into future events – Police & Crime Commissioners. Update No 2 – September 2011, UK Home Office (thanks to @Relhyde for this)

DNACPR = Do Not Attempt Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation

  • Our clinicians followed the DNACPR policy, which remains in place – a spokesman for Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, commenting on a case in which a husband claimed doctors added “do not resuscitate” to his wife’s medical notes without her permission, quoted by the BBC 27 August 2011

dogfooding = using your own product to demonstrate its quality and capabilities

double-dip = prolonged (as in double-dip recession)

  • Innumerable examples.  Correspondent Louise Dore points out a ‘double-dip’ recession is not the same thing as a prolonged recession but a period when the economy shrinks, followed by a brief period where it grows, followed by another shrinkage. An alternative might be to say that the economic recovery has failed or faltered.   As I said to Louise, I have left the entry itself for two reasons (1) I suspect many politicians use it without fully understanding the precise meaning and (2) its overuse irritates me! (this is my blogger’s prerogative)

drawdown, commence = start leaving

  • combat troops will commence drawdown [from Afghanistan] from 2014 – Colonel Stuart Tootal on World at One, BBC Radio 4 21 July 2010 [one of many un-necessary and ambiguous uses of the word drawdown]

duumverate = two people leading or in charge

  • …Vladimir Putin, prime minister, who is the more hardline figure in Russia’s duumverate – article on a visit by British prime minister David Cameron to Russia in Financial Times 10 September 2011


early years practitioners = people who look after young children

EBITDA = earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization

  • It looks like their (Betfair’s) profits have gone down on EBITDA from £74 million last year to £62 million this year – John Heaton, managing director of the Betting and Gaming Consultancy, BBC Radio 4 Today programme 21 September 2010 [only after he had used this jargon twice did the interviewer attempt to explain EBITDA]

employee value proposition = rewards and benefits for paid work

  • I am being asked if I have an Employee Value Proposition.  Should I even know what that means?  – @blowndes via @WeLoveLocalGov on Twitter 13 September 2011

end-game = outcome

  • I think the optimal end-game would be  a swift conclusion to the hostilities – Nigel Inkster, former deputy chief of MI6 on the situation in Libya, BBC Radio 4 PM programme 22 March 2011 (see also “optimal”)

engagement = working (with)

  • Innumerable examples including Next Steps: Engagement with Partners – Police & Crime Commissioners. Update No 2 – September 2011, UK Home Office

envelope = limit

evangelist = marketer, promoter (secular)

  • Innumerable examples on the web, as in cloud ev., methodology ev., Ruby developer ev., website ev., technology ev., …

events, loud impusive = bangs

  • The sensors are designed to be triggered by what the company calls loud impulsive events – a Chief Superintendent of West Midlands Police describing the new Shot Spotter Technology they are using to locate gun shots, BBC Radio 4 Today programme 9 December 2010 [to be fair he was quoting the words used by the American manufacturer of the device]

expectations, managing = you’re going to get less than you thought

  • This is about managing people’s expectations and thinking about how much they should put in [to their pension fund] -Tom McPhail, head of pensions research at Hargreaves Lansdown, BBC Radio 4 Money Box 3 November 2012


fiscal consolidation = reducing government deficit and debt

  • Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today stressed the need for a calibrated attempt at fiscal consolidation – Times of India web site 29 June 2010

flatlining = not growing

  • The economy is flatlining – Labour leader Ed Milliband quoted on BBC Radio 4 news 8 September 2011

front loading = early

  • The severe and unexpected front loading of the cuts limits the scope of councils to reduce their spending through more innovative measures –  Cllr Richard Kemp, Vice-Chairman of the Local Government Association, 13 December 2010


going forward = in future

  • Examples too innumerable to mention

gold command = strategic emergency command and control

  • Gold command is in position (in relation to flooding) – Philip Hammond, UK government Secretary of State for Defence, Radio 4 Today programme 11 February 2014 (the reference is to how emergencies are managed)

green light = approve

  • …and we will green light them as soon as they are ready – Eric Pickles,Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, discussing Local Enterprise Partnerships in the Municipal Journal, 4 November 2010


haircut = reduction

  • It cannot be right that policy holders are subject to a 90% haircut – Chris Wiscerson, Equitable Life chief executive, BBC Radio 4 Today programme 6 September 2010

horizons, booking = you can book until

  • The Booking Horizons for our Caledonian Sleeper service are now open up to and including 05/10/12, @Scotrail tweet 13 July 2012

hourly basis, on an = every hour

  • These toilets are inspected on an hourly basis – notice in the otherwise excellent McManus art gallery and museum Dundee, April 2011

hypothecation = the pledging of money by law to a specific purpose

  • They [speed cameras] paid for themselves because we brought hypothecation and you might understand that … [No] – former deputy prime minister John Prescott debating transport policy, BBC Radio 4 Today programme 2 October 2010


in situ = is/are there

  • Many examples, including Ceredigion Council’s when the students were in situ i.e. during term time BBC News web site 1 August 2013

integer = number

  • Perform an addition of two integers to avoid spam i.e. add two numbers to avoid spam – instruction seen on a web site for potential contributors

intel (pronounced INtel) = intelligence

  • There was no intel on Saturday night… – Kit Malthouse, deputy mayor of London and chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority commenting on disturbances in North London, BBC Radio 4 Today 8 August 2011


JSA = job seekers’ allowance

  • When you lose your job you’ve gone to JSA – Professor Harriet Bradley of Bristol University,  BBC Radio 4 Today 12 October 2011


key = important

  • Pop-up channels – around specific events or festivals such as Glastonbury, curated by key talent – BBC consultation on future of their i-Player, October 2013 [see also curated above]


mentee = a person who is mentored

  • Many examples, including article entitled Mentor Advantages beat Mentee Gains in Planning magazine 26 August 2011

metrics = measures

  • Innumerable examples – citations sought

module, core = report, main

  • Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2010 Core Module: Attitudes to Government, the Economy and Public Services in Scotland, published 2011 – report title


notspot = the opposite of a hotspot, the absence of service


optimal = best

  • I think the optimal end-game would be  a swift conclusion to the hostilities – Nigel Inkster, former deputy chief of MI6 on the situation in Libya, BBC Radio 4 PM programme 22 March 2011 (see also “end-game”)


patient pathway = how we deal with patients

  • It’s actually about reconfiguration along the whole patient pathway –  Andrew Lansley UK health secretary (in relation to the government’s proposals to reform the NHS), BBC Radio 4 Today programme 2 March 2011 (see also reconfiguration)

perpetual beta = I originally wrote “? some jargon is untranslatable, as in…” but on reflection think the BBC simply mean they always aim to improve their web site.  Why don’t they say so?

  • This website, its pages and the technical infrastructure that supports it are still being developed with a view to incrementally improving the functionality (the ‘perpetual beta’) and user experience over time – BBC web site

phonics, systematic synthetic = teaching writing by starting with a word, breaking it into its sounds, writing the letters for each sound and then joining them together [a heck of a lot longer but at least understandable]

  • Primary schools such as Berrymede in Ealing and Woodberry Down in Hackney use the rigorous approach of systematic synthetic phonics and as a result children learn to read early and go on to read widely for pleasure – Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, London Evening Standard 10 June 2011

pre-trial confinement capability = remand prison

  •  The facility [includes] a pre-trial confinement capability – Pentagon spokesman, BBC Radio 4 News 0700 20 April 2011


Q2 = second quarter (also Q1, Q3 and Q4)

  • We had that very good Q2 GDP – Alan Clark, chief UK economist BNP Paribas, BBC Radio 4 The World at One 11 August 2010

quintile = fifth (also quartile, decile etc)


re-architect = redesign or rebuild?

  • Some of the things we’re working on include… Re-architecting our base development framework with the goal of improved performance and availability – Scott Thorensen, Chief Technology Officer of ancestry.com, 2 September 2013

reconciliation, to do a  = make adjustments

  • Every country that I know of that has deduction of tax from wages and salaries has to do a reconciliation at the end of the year – Dave Hartnett, Permanent Secretary HMRC, BBC Radio 4 Money Box programme,  11 September 2010

reconfiguration along = changing

  • It’s actually about reconfiguration along the whole patient pathway –  Andrew Lansley UK health secretary (in relation to the government’s proposals to reform the NHS), BBC Radio 4 Today programme 2 March 2011 (see also patient pathway)

redaction = removal or withholding (of sensitive or confidential material)

  • Please note; That the report has been subject of redaction to protect the identity and privacy of family members and professionals involved in this case – serious case review published by Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board 27 July 2010.  13 October 2011 – Mark Hindmarsh comments perceptively “Redaction is censorship, surely? Just dressed up with a pretty ribbon.”

ring fenced = protected

  • …the same top slicing as other ring fenced budgets, Lord Hannay defending the Foreign Office budget in the House of Lords, 1 July 2010 (two for the price of one here – see also top slicing)

route map = avoiding (in this example – it is used to obscure many purposes)

  • The indicator framework has been informed by NHS Health Scotland’s Healthy Weight Outcomes logic model and by the Scottish Public Health Networks Obesity Route Map engagement process, Scottish Government web site March 2011


salami slicing = all-round cuts

  • Salami slicing won’t deliver the savings required [of police forces] – Sir Hugh Ord, President of Association of Chief Police Officers, BBC Radio 4 News 29 June 2010

semantic markup = ??

  • The Programmes website is developed with simple design principles using standards compliant semantic markup to maximise its accessibility to screen readers – BBC Programmes web site March 2011 (In order to explain the phrase semantic markup the BBC site links to a Wikipedia page which says “XHTML and HTML standards allow for the embedding and encoding of semantics within the attributes of markup tags”.  So none the wiser there, hence the baffled “??” above)

shovel-ready = can be built quickly

  • Swinney outlines further shovel-ready projects, Scottish Government press release 25 November 2012

stakeholder engagement = consultation

  • Stakeholder Engagement on the Secondary School Estate – title of Aberdeen City Council consultation exercise June – September 2010

step-free access = lifts

  • “There is no step-free access at this station” (i. e. the lifts are broken) – railway/tube announcement reported in a Tweet by @LloydDavis 13 April 2011

strategization = thought

  • It’s going to take a certain amount of strategization to get those cars out of there – Montana Rail Link spokeswoman on a railway/road accident quoted by the Billings Gazette 4 September 2013

system viability status, non-valid = the computer has crashed

  • “Your system viability status is non valid” – seen in a System Error Number explanation list for a VAX minicomputer (so it must have been some time ago, but the old ones are the best).  Thanks to Hedley Stovold for this sighting


top slicing = removing part

  • …the same top slicing as other ring fenced budgets, Lord Hannay defending the Foreign Office budget in the House of Lords, 1 July 2010 (see also ring fenced)

transdisciplinarity = crossing the boundaries of arts and science

  • We’re definitely into an era of transdiciplinarity – Araine Coek, Centre for the Arts at CERN, The World this Weekend BBC Radio 4 9 October 2011

transition = change

  • We have decided to transition our business to other suppliers over time – McDonalds, explaining a decision to cease using Heinz tomato keychup, reported by the BBC 29 October 2013


upstream interventions = earlier actions

  • So what we’ve done here is look at a series of upstream interventions which are designed to create a healthier environment… – Professor Mike Kelly of the National Institute of Clinical Excellence discussing their report on the prevention of cardiovascular disease, BBC Radio 4 22 June 2010


vandalism = an act of vandalism [as opposed to the general practice of vandalism]

  • Officers are appealing for witnesses following a vandalism to a car in Stonehaven – Police Scotland web site, 4 June 2013

voids, zero = no empty shops

  • We’ve got a situation, certainly on Regent Street and St James’, we’ve got zero voids – Roger Bryce chief executive Crown Estates, Radio 4 Today programme 7 July 2011


womancession = recession affecting women

  • Well there’s what people are calling a womancession – Will Hutton, vice-chairman of the Work Foundation, BBC Radio 4 Today 12 October 2011


zero sum = a situation in which the gain or loss  of one approach is exactly balanced by the loss or gain of another

  • the relationship between platform and agile is not zero sum – System Error.  Fixing the flaws in government IT, Institute for Government March 2011

13 Responses to “The jargon bin”

  1. Hedley Stovold Says:

    “Your system viability status is non valid” – seen in a System Error Number explanation list for a VAX minicomputer.

    = you have crashed. Don’t know why.

  2. Roger White Says:

    Hedley – you’ll see I’ve taken the liberty of including your great example under “system viability status, non-valid” – with proper attribution of course. Thanks.

  3. […] morning tweet today has found its way onto a dubious list of bad language. Not swearwords: a ’jargon bin’ full of corporate nonsense, invented by specialists but used and understood by few people outside […]

  4. Louise Dore Says:

    A ‘double-dip’ recession is not the same thing as a prolonged recession. It means a period where the economy shrinks, followed by a brief period where it grows, followed by another shrinkage. An alternative might be to say that the economic recovery has failed or faltered.

    1. Roger White Says:

      Louise – thanks. I have amended the entry to acknowledge your correction. I have left the entry itself for two reasons (1) I suspect many politicians use it without fully understanding the precise meaning and (2) its overuse irritates me! (this is called blogger’s prerogative)

  5. Mark Hindmarsh Says:

    Going forward is a particularly annoying piece of jargon and I’m happy to see it in the Bin.

    Redaction is censorship, surely? Just dressed up with a pretty ribbon.

    1. Roger White Says:

      Mark – great comment about “redaction”. Thanks. I’ve added a note about it (properly credited) to the jargon bin. Perhaps ‘redaction’ should be replace with ‘censored’ in every public report it’s used in!

  6. L: Low decile (poor). Widely used in New Zealand education bureaucracy.

  7. Y: Youth justice facility. A borstal, or prison for young offenders.

  8. X: x-efficiency (or x-inefficiency). In economics; what the rest of us think of as efficiency. As opposed to what economists think of as efficient: allocation of resources by a free market.

  9. Angharad Pike Says:

    ‘Workstream’ – I cannot provide a definition as I am still none the wiser what is stands for, but we use it all teh time in the office!

  10. Catherine Says:

    “Skills set” – why not just “skills? We’re also going to be having “real conversations” in future, sorry, going forward, but surely, any conversation is a real one, isn’t it?? Can you have a fake conversation? I’m with Angharad on “workstream” too – what on earth is it? Why is it not just “work”, or “tasks”? We all have to do a great deal of “driving” too, and not of the vehicular kind. Recently, everyone was “iterating” as well, or having “iterations”. That seems to have slackened off a bit, though. I read today about local communities “growing their reach” in respect of projects – does this mean “extending”? The same item mentioned “citizen engagement” – presumably meaning that local people were consulted. “User centred design” and “ethnography” appeared too. Eh?

  11. Margaret Says:

    ‘internal customer’ – used by organisations who have little experience dealing with real ‘external’ customers. An internal customer is a colleague. I have always believed in the sanctity of the colleague-to-colleague relationship. Sometimes colleagues do your head in, but they are colleagues and will always help out even when they disagree. Now because colleagues are internal customers, we can’t constructively criticise, the special close relationship between colleague to colleague is dismantled, and no one trusts their colleagues (ahem, ‘internal customer’) anymore. What if the needs of the internal and external customer conflict? Well, apparently the internal customer comes first…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s