Gobbledygook, blather and other claptrap

Pam
Pam Frampton
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"Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very'; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite."
- C.S. Lewis

Politicians, spokespeople and other officials are fond of taking the simplest concepts and investing them with such grandeur that they are rendered virtually incomprehensible.
Journalists are taught to try to write clearly and simply, so as to effectively convey what it is we're trying to say. We don't always succeed, of course. We can get so caught up in legalese, bureaucratic buzzwords or police speak that we parrot what we've heard without translating it into plain English for the benefit of the viewer, reader or listener.
A recent case in point: a story The Telegram picked up last week described how two Stephenville Crossing men were charged with being "unlawfully in a dwelling."
Ask yourselves, folks - when was the last time you entered a dwelling? I think in this day and age it's OK to say "broke into a house." Frankly, dwelling should be relegated to the dustbin of history. It's time has come and gone. Now, if we can only convince the police of that. …

Buzzword du jour
Recently, when the doctors received a written response from the provincial government in an attempt to reach a new collective agreement, they lamented the letter's lack of "clarity." Now, asking for clarity is just another way of saying "we want more detail" or "we still have questions" or " this is as clear as mud," but for some reason "clarity" is the phrase of choice among confused folk everywhere these days.
So, how can I get me some?
Following is a compendium of some of the troubling turns of phrase spotted in recent news releases and other communiquÉs, plus their literal translation.
• "meaningful volumes" - Lots. As in, "Working with our municipal partners in different areas of the province has resulted in meaningful volumes of household hazardous waste being diverted and recycled in a cost-effective manner." (Multi-Materials Stewardship Board chairman Leigh Puddester in an April 27 news release about household hazardous waste.)
• "This is a make or break time for our fishing livelihood and the minister should be empowering the process, not demoralizing efforts." - The provincial fisheries minister is more of a hindrance than a help. (Liberal MHA Marshall Dean in a March 12 news release.)
• "The minister is holding a media availability." - He or she has finally decided to talk to you.
• "Our government recognized that significant investment into policing in our province was required to ensure the safety of our people and growth of the RNC." - Premier-speak for, "We needed more backup, man," in announcing the new chief of police, April 21.
• "Newfoundland and Labrador is a place where you can grow your family. …" - This province can sustain human life. But what the heck are we growing? Chia Pets? (Human Resources Minister Susan Sullivan in the House of Assembly, April 21.)
• "… Significant investments aimed at increasing access to employment opportunities." - We spent lots of money to help people find jobs. (Sullivan again.)
• "We have the solid foundation we need to attract and retain young skilled workers." - There's no need to go off to Alberta, b'y.
• "Adventure tourism" - don't expect The Ritz.
• "An environment where youth want to build careers." - decent job market.
• "Through the Job Creation Partnership program, not only will three individuals gain work experience, but residents of the area will benefit from the work being performed." - Don't call it make-work anymore.
• "The agency has identified the need for public awareness and support of the industry in ensuring a sustainable and viable forest industry into the future." - We probably shouldn't cut down all the trees. (From a Natural Resources news release April 22. Same goes for the next item.)
• "Forest harvesting and firefighting equipment will also be on display." - Check out the axe and hose.
• "Several roads throughout the Northern Peninsula will receive upgrades through this year's Provincial Roads Improvement Program." - Your roads: now, with fewer potholes!
• "Our aggressive roads improvement strategy is one part of our unprecedented overall infrastructure renewal effort." - We're big on pavement this year.
• "It is wonderful to see the Provincial Government make these investments and help roll out a welcome mat for everyone exploring this part of the province and beyond." - Aren't we swell? We're using your money to lay down some asphalt. Your roads: now, strewn with fewer torn-off mufflers and blown tires! (Those last three were from the same Transportation and Works news release, April 22.)
• "Making adaptation-focused decisions now will help our economy, communities and natural resources sectors prepare for climate change impacts in the future." - The sky is falling. Quick! Do something. (ACOA Minister Keith Ashfield, April 23.)
• "Communities in Atlantic Canada are already experiencing serious impacts during extreme weather events." - The weather often sucks here. (Nova Scotia Environment Minister Sterling Belliveau, April 23).
• "As a public resource, wildlife must be managed so that it benefits the diverse interests of all stakeholders, while ensuring that populations of animals and their habitats can be sustained for future generations." - Don't kill everything, OK? (Environment Minister Charlene Johnson, April 12).

Pam Frampton is the Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at pframpton@thetelegram.com. Read her columns online at www.thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Multi-Materials Stewardship Board, The Ritz

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta, Northern Peninsula Atlantic Canada Nova Scotia

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  • Stan
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    You wrote a great piece. I call it all Blabberspeak . These people seem to think they are so important that they even invent new words if the one being used does not make them sound smart enough. They are impressive - but make themselves sound stupid. Speaking of stupid, they should all learn to keep it simple stupid .

  • HaHa
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    Great subject!
    Just note how often the Danny followers use his Nothing could be further from the truth instead of that's not correct.
    Or, how about, on a go forward basis instead of from now on.
    My favourite peeve in politician speak is the extreme use of in terms of . Why would someone ask, What did you have, in terms of supper, yesterday? when they'd only have to say, What did you have for supper yesterday? Some politicians have in terms of in nearly every sentence, just count them sometimes during an interview.......yukkkkkk.

  • Lloyd
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    Good column and a great call. Honestly, they should all try to keep it just a tad simpler (except Rex, of course). Sometimes it seems they all speak the same language, they latch on to a few phrases (interesting only the first time it was said) that so rapidly grow old. Funny how simple language doesn't do that. Most tiresome ones include 'nothing could be further from the truth', (well, yes it can), but somethings ARE further from the truth. From some of them most things are not quite true to start with. How about on 'a go forward basis'. Good lord, like you're going to actually plan on a go backward basis? Whats wrong with 'from now on' on 'in the future'. REally guys it doesn't make your empty words sound better. I suppose it is true that the more words that are said, it is more likely that some of them will be true and/or interesting. Sort of like the idea of a million monkeys with their typewriters.... well, you know.
    Thanks again.

  • Stan
    July 01, 2010 - 20:03

    You wrote a great piece. I call it all Blabberspeak . These people seem to think they are so important that they even invent new words if the one being used does not make them sound smart enough. They are impressive - but make themselves sound stupid. Speaking of stupid, they should all learn to keep it simple stupid .

  • HaHa
    July 01, 2010 - 20:00

    Great subject!
    Just note how often the Danny followers use his Nothing could be further from the truth instead of that's not correct.
    Or, how about, on a go forward basis instead of from now on.
    My favourite peeve in politician speak is the extreme use of in terms of . Why would someone ask, What did you have, in terms of supper, yesterday? when they'd only have to say, What did you have for supper yesterday? Some politicians have in terms of in nearly every sentence, just count them sometimes during an interview.......yukkkkkk.

  • Lloyd
    July 01, 2010 - 19:55

    Good column and a great call. Honestly, they should all try to keep it just a tad simpler (except Rex, of course). Sometimes it seems they all speak the same language, they latch on to a few phrases (interesting only the first time it was said) that so rapidly grow old. Funny how simple language doesn't do that. Most tiresome ones include 'nothing could be further from the truth', (well, yes it can), but somethings ARE further from the truth. From some of them most things are not quite true to start with. How about on 'a go forward basis'. Good lord, like you're going to actually plan on a go backward basis? Whats wrong with 'from now on' on 'in the future'. REally guys it doesn't make your empty words sound better. I suppose it is true that the more words that are said, it is more likely that some of them will be true and/or interesting. Sort of like the idea of a million monkeys with their typewriters.... well, you know.
    Thanks again.