A Babel of Jargon

Posted on December 31, 2009.

Photo by Beralpo, Wikimedia Commons

A collective indigestion of jargon. Photo by Beralpo, Wikimedia Commons

My friend is looking for a job. He finds an ad of the US-based Mercy Corps and calls me for a translation. The ad is in English - sort of - but he can’t figure out what it is about:

“Invitation for a consultancy in conducting a training on enhancing facilitation skills of development practitioners of livelihood enhancement programs.”

What does this text mean exactly, except that we have a collective indigestion of development jargon from NGOs and the UN, from academics and politicians, and that the media is complicit in this masquerading of long words as substance? 

Here are some egregious examples from media houses I write for outside Gender Masala (thus, I will not bite the hands that put food and wine on my table by doing a name-and-shame or I will have to apply for the Mercy Corps job myself and, for my sins, spend my days writing about mainstreaming stakeholder engagement through shared learning platforms).

“Unless the ways in which teachers promote knowledge acquisition improve on a system-wide scale, mother tongue education on its own will not make a difference.”

Promote knowledge acquisition? I think that means teaching. Yes,  teaching methods must improve countrywide for mother tongue education to work.

If pedagogues speak so cryptically, no wonder teachers can’t teach well in  any language.

hHere is one on gender: ”To change these already entrenched values will mean women have to consciously make a paradigm shift in the way they handle themselves.”

How about this one?  “XX  says that the project aims to highlight good practice in jointly identifying and addressing developmental challenges at local community level between young volunteers working in African and European organisations.”

Excuse my coughs, I have just choked on jargon.

pic by Bobby, Wikimedia CommonsPhoto by Bobby, Wikimedia Commons

If NGOs and the UN  want to (ab)use jargon in their rarified world, so be it.

But we journalists should not parrot meaningless words. We  should translate jargon into real and simple language so readers can understand what it means.

* Check this useful list of 200 jargon words banned by the American Association for Local Government.
*  Read here a really interesting IP S story about language and gender.

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