Plain language-always fashionable


Outside of science fiction movies, I’ve yet to experience time stand still, or spool backwards.

Yet in this, the year 2018, we have people whose speech and text constantly remind us of time’s inexorable direction.

It is now fashionable to place the words “going forward” in every discussion involving the establishment.

“Going forward, our initiative will facilitate fulsome engagement with stakeholders.”

Thank you. I was worried your stakeholder engagement was going to traverse time upwards, then downwards, with one foot in, one foot out, then shake the stakeholders all about.

Ahem.

It gets worse. I’ve even heard some people shorten the phrase to a noun — to “a go forward.” As in: “We will prepare a go-forward for city council on that issue.”

Sounds like a plan.

No, really. A go-forward appears to be the identical concept as a plan. Why the heck couldn’t they just say that? “We will prepare a plan.”

Why, why, why?

I’ll tell you why. Because “going forward” is but one example of the lingo, jargon and code words that emerge and then are adopted by educated groups. They use these words and phrases as shorthand, or a verbal handshake to denote exclusive membership or insider status.

The Establishment — politicians, civil servants, consultants and private sector managers — are guilty of this, too.

A few years ago, you couldn’t sit down in a meeting without someone opining “from the 30,000-foot level.” Then came the idea to first work on the “low hanging fruit.”

Typically, everyone nodded soberly and then went on to other meetings, where they could show off their cool quotient, at the 30,000 foot level.

Low-hanging fruit is now unheard, even at ground level, thankfully. Like all fads, those phrases eventually passed out of fashion.

New and annoying things came along. Nowadays, I’m hearing more and more about things appearing in or as a tranche, or being iterative, or requiring fulsome such and such.

Tranche, iterative and fulsome are showing up in council discussions and City reports. By using such uncommon phrases, the speakers or writers signal two things:

1) They want to be in the club;

2) They are losing their capacity to speak human.

I suppose it’s ever been thus. If I looked back far enough, I’d find weasel words and jargon in that most beautiful era of all in North America, the 1950s.

But sadly, looking back nostalgically is no longer possible. Not when we’ve got a go-forward to iterate. Tranche by tranche. Fulsomely.

By Scott McKeen, City Councillor Ward 6