We call swearing 'bad language', but in my view really bad language is the sort which defies comprehension: "We need to cascade memos about our optional policy hardware... Our strategists developed positioning that angled this curatorial expertise to the forefront of the new brand... The consultants recommend responsive third-generation paradigm shifts.” Do what? 'Consultants recommend' says it all: management consultants make a fortune by bombarding clients with this gobbledygook.
Meaningless jargon has infiltrated the arts world ("I am an artist who makes eclectic works of documentation which utilise aesthetics and medium as host for meaning within sometimes site specific and socially engaged procedures... in Tasmania, I made a series of crocheted gorilla balaclavas” — Mandy McIntosh), poetry ("This paper will be a reflection on what endures and on the archaeology of utterance — an archaeology that is intimately connected to castration” — 'Poetry & Psychoanalysis' seminar, University of Essex) and even the railways ("Moving forwards, we as Virgin Trains [sic] are looking to take ownership of the flow in question to apply our pricing structure, thus resulting in this journey search appearing in the new category-matrix format”). It's good to hear that Virgin Trains are moving forwards, but what the rest of the statement means is anybody's guess.
This nonsense starts with using a long word where a short one would do, as when people say they'll 'action' something rather than 'do' it. Such pointless verbal inflation soon escalates to "physically installing the metallic facility path” (laying a cable) and "installing a component into the structural fabric” (bricklaying). From there it's a short step to "A multi-agency project catering for holistic diversionary provision to young people for positive action linked to the community safety strategy and the pupil referral unit.” (Excluded kids being given go-karting lessons.)
In a similar vein, the puffing-up of everyday job titles has given us 'Knowledge Navigator' (teacher), 'Revenue Protection Officer' (ticket inspector), 'Technical Horticultural Maintenance Officer (gardener), 'Ambient Replenishment Controller' (shelf stacker) and 'Water Professionals' (plumbers). Going forward (nice bit of jargon there), I would like to be known as a 'Fully Chromatic, Equal-Temperament Claviature Operative', safe in the knowledge that no-one will figure out I'm a keyboard player.
Even though you won't understand it, I know you'll enjoy this extract from an incomprehensible message sent to me by a royalties collection society a few years ago: "The most granular level of detail is itemised on your statement, rather than being rolled up as per your normal statement... The 'Usage & Territory' column has not been populated.” I assume 'granular level of detail' means 'fine detail', so why not just say so? 'Rolled up' sounds like something you do to a carpet or trouser leg, and 'populated' implies that the statement might actually have people living in it, which would surely make royalty distribution difficult.
The BBC is particularly prone to hogwash and mumbo-jumbo. Former Director General John Birt is famous for spouting reams of guff, and 'Birtspeak' still rules at the Corporation: "We wanted to build the DNA of the new site in line with ongoing trends and evolution towards dynamically generated and syndicable content... You will constantly use data and research to inform the product roadmaps while feeling liberated to redefine the future of online media through journeys and experiences the BBC is uniquely positioned to deliver.” Ironic that a public broadcaster sees fit to privatise language in this way. A case of 'Nation shall speak bollocks unto Nation', maybe?
Speaking of talking international rubbish, let's hear it for Thamsanqa Jantjie, sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial. Experts described his signing as 'gibberish' and 'arbitrary'. Mr Jantjie later claimed he had suffered a schizophrenic episode, started hearing voices and began hallucinating. Whatever the reason, congratulations to him for taking indecipherable bollocks to a new global level, all without uttering a word. If the signing gigs dry up, a job at the BBC awaits.
Dave Stewart is a UK keyboardist/composer who proactively promulgates 'pop music for grown-ups' with singer Barbara Gaskin. He has written for SOS (while resting between engagements) longer than any of us care to remember.