Posts tagged jargon

A very special bus service

One of the phrases guaranteed to dismay every regular user of Britain’s chaotic and overpriced railway network is rail replacement service. This involves taking the scheduled service off the rails (usually for engineering works at busy holiday periods when everyone either wants to get away and/or visit friends and loved ones. Ed.) and substituting the rolling stock with buses, with the inevitable increased journey times and a reduction in passenger comfort.

However, these rail replacement services do not serve Stapleton Road railway station, where the sign shown below is affixed to the Frome viaduct wing wall on the station approach.

Sign title reads rail replacementment buses

As the station is under the management of First Great Western, an alleged train operating company, you ‘umble scribe assumes it was their staff who designed, wrote and approved the final signage.

For any passing First Great Western signage design drones, here’s a wee tip: a spellchecker now comes as a standard feature of all popular office productivity suites. 😀

Planning for clichés

The inspiration to write this post was what an old friend referred to on social media as the Town Planners’ Little Book of Tired ClichĂ©s.

We were discussing a press report on long-term plans for Bristol Temple Meads, the city’s main railway station and its environs.

The report itself was written up from a press release issued by the literary geniuses employed in the Bristol City Council Newsroom down the Counts Louse (which some people now call City Hall. Ed.).

Bristol Temple Meads railway station

Bristol Temple Meads. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Whilst avoiding clichés has long been a given as advice for good creative writing, the various actors quoted in the Temple Meads piece seem to relish in their use.

Thus the surrounding area “will be rejuvenated with housing, shops and hospitality outlets creating a new area of the city where people can live, shop, visit and socialise”.

Note the exemplary use of rejuvenated.

In addition, how a new area of the city can be created by covering an existing but derelict city area in architecturally contrived arrangements of building materials is beyond me. If you have any clues, dear reader, please enlighten me via the comments.

Then there’s that essential element for anything involving urban planning – the vision thing. This is ably provided in this case in a quotation by Network Rail’s spokesperson: “We are delighted to be working with our partners on this significant regeneration project and Bristol Temple Meads station is at the heart of this vision.”

Helmut Schmidt, who served as the West German chancellor from 1974 to 1982, had a thing to say about visions: “Wer Visionen hat, sollte zum Arzt gehen“. In English: People who have visions should go to the doctor. Genau! Sie haben Recht, Herr Schmidt.

Needless to the whole glossary of hackneyed phraseology seems to have been upended into the phraseology mixing bowl to create something not only unappetising, but indigestible: ambitious; innovative; rejuvenate/rejuvenation; regeneration; gateway; transformation/transformative; integrate; blueprint; showcase.

And on the clichés go, marching tediously across and down the page.

There are nevertheless a couple of absolute gems in the piece to compensate for all this guff.

Firstly,there’s the timescale for the plans. We are are informed that “work is not expected to start for another decade with the expected completion not until 2041 at the earliest“. Thus all that hot air is being expended on something whose actual implementation is two decades in the future; if not more.

A well-known adage springs to mind: pigs might fly.

Secondly, there’s the promise of an integrated transport hub. Basically this means creating a major public transport interchange (as seen in sensible city’s where the local bus/tram serve the railway station). To my knowledge, there’s been talk of a transport hub/interchange at Temple Meads for at least 3 decades already, so for it actually to become a reality within 5 decades would entail the city’s infrastructure planning process moving at more than their usual slower than tectonic plates speed.

Footways, footpaths and pavements

How many of us pay that much attention to road signs when out and about on our daily business on foot as pedestrians?

I mean really pay attention, not just to the instruction being given or the advice being offered by the road sign itself, but the actual words used.

Take the two examples below, both taken during this past week on the streets of Bristol. Both are on a part of the highway used by pedestrians and generally referred to by the general public as the pavement (on which more anon. Ed.). But which – if any – is the correct term? Are footways and footpaths the same?

Composite image showing 'Diverted Footway' and 'Footpath Closed' road signs

Left, Newfoundland Road = correct. Right, Lansdown Road, Easton = incorrect.

To answer the second question first, no; they are not the same.

If there’s one thing many decades of being a linguist has taught me, it is that terminology is important – the correct word used in the right context.

One generally has be a legislator, highway engineer or transport campaigner to know the difference between a footway and a footpath.

Fortunately, it is clearly defined in legislation, in this case the Highways Act 1980, which provides the following definitions:

“footpath” means a highway over which the public have a right of way on foot only, not being a footway;
“footway” means a way comprised in a highway which also comprises a carriageway, being a way over which the public have a right of way on foot only.

In addition, Cheshire East Council provides the following information on its webpage entitled “What Are Public Rights of Way?

You should be careful to distinguish between ‘public footpaths’ and ‘footways’. Pavements beside public roads are not public footpaths – it is better to refer to them as footways or simply pavements.
Footways are not recorded on the Definitive Map as Public Rights of Way. A footway is really a part of the main highway which has been set apart for pedestrians.

Nevertheless, a caveat needs to be added to the clause where Cheshire East Council advises that “it is better to refer to them as footways or simply pavements“.

The caveat is that there’s a world of difference between what “pavement” denotes to ordinary mortals and professionals such as civil and highway engineers: for the former it’s the footway; for the latter more specialised use, Britannica gives the following definition:

Pavement, in civil engineering, durable surfacing of a road, airstrip, or similar area. The primary function of a pavement is to transmit loads to the sub-base and underlying soil.

Who would have thought two words on two such simple temporary road signs deployed for road works could be such a terminological minefield? 😉

Littered with innuendo

Yesterday’s Bristol Post reported on the first month of operation of what it’s dubbed the “litter police”, the private contractors brought in by Bristol City Council to take enforcement action on such environmental crimes as dropping cigarette ends, littering, failing to clear up the mess of one’s dog, tagging and spitting.

They’ve had a busy first month, issuing 1,368 fixed penalty notices with a total value of nearly £70,000.

Whilst this long overdue enhanced enforcement against the untidy is welcome (as a founder of Tidy BS5 I wholeheartedly support their engagement by BCC. Ed.), it’s not the numbers that interest me, but the Post’s choice of language, particularly at the top of the article, which is reproduced below.

sub-heading under headline reads the civil enforcement officers had a busy first few weeks on the job

Look between the headline and the byline and you’ll see the following sentence: “The civil enforcement officers had a busy first few weeks on the job“.

All you Brits can stop sniggering.


On the job” in the sense of something related to work is, to the best of my knowledge, an import from American English that has in recent decades started appearing increasingly in British corporate jargon. During my youth over 4 decades ago, the phrase had only one meaning and that had salacious connotations.

Collins Dictionary gives the following definitions for the phrase in British English:

  • actively engaged in one’s employment;
  • (taboo) engaged in sexual intercourse.

As regards the first definition, this could cover tuition given during employment (e.g. on the job training): no further explanation is required for the second.

French official ICT vocabulary updated

The DĂ©lĂ©gation gĂ©nĂ©rale Ă  la langue française et aux langues de France (= General Delegation for the French language and the languages of France) has published the latest version of its vocabulary recommendations for information and communication technologies (ICT), today’s Le Monde Informatique reports.

The Délégation générale à la langue française et aux langues de France has been working since 1979 on a Gallicisation of the English language terms that populate the digital world. A new version of its recommendations for ICT vocabulary terms has just been published with several updates compared with the previous version released in 2009. The document contains 488 pages and can be downloaded free of charge as a PDF.

image of an entry from the Vocabulary

The Vocabulary’s entry for email address

The document brings together all the recommendations made in the last half century and published over the years in the French Official Journal. In theory, use of these terms is mandatory instead of English language terms, particularly in documents that have to be written by law in French (e.g. documents required for work in particular). After an introduction summarising the history and meaning of the work that has been completed, the main bulk of the document comprises a dictionary of recommended terms, with the entry for each word comprising not only its definition but the foreign equivalents to be excluded. The end of the vocabulary contains an index of both the French and foreign language terms.

This work could be regarded as a move to defend France’s “belle langue“. However, living languages are always enriched by contact with regional or foreign languages. The task of the vocabulary can be regarded rather as an effort to retain a consistent and fair mode of expression.

BarnCamp burns the nerd gag

Last weekend saw the staging of BarnCamp 2015 (in which Bristol Wireless’ volunteers have been involved since its inception. Ed.). Running from Friday 19th June to Sunday 21st, BarnCamp was as usual a low-cost rural DIY skillsharing event open to everyone, including UK activists, campaigners, people involved in social and community groups and anybody else with an interest in technology and how to subvert it to put it to good use.

According to the sales pitch: “All skill levels are invited and we promise that workshops are not too geeky due to our infamous nerd gag” (of which more later. Ed.).

Once again we were the guests of Highbury Farm, a housing co-operative set in some 30 acres of unimproved but rather steep grassland at Redbrook in the beautiful Wye Valley south of Monmouth.

Looking north towards Monmouth from Highbury Farm

Looking north towards Monmouth from Highbury Farm

Your correspondent formed part of the forward crew who went to site on Wednesday to set up the event. This year a few more of us were on hand to ensure that all the essential infrastructure – large tents for workshops, signage, kitchen, other refreshment facilities, camp fire, showers and the like – was all in place for the first arrivals. Indeed it was more or less complete by lunchtime on Thursday. Well done all!

Once into the event proper, each day started with breakfast, followed by a plenary session, then workshops, lunch, more workshops and concluding with supper and socialising.

The workshops this year had the usual variety: an introduction to satellite communications, basic electronics, using WordPress and OpenStreetMap, to mention but a few. There were even sessions on basic self defence, whilst Ben’s ever-popular wild food walk took place on no fewer than 3 occasions.

Your correspondent was in charge of building the nightly campfire, a duty that occasionally involved some sheltering of the previous night’s embers from the rain, whilst even the woodpile showed its geeky side.

sign on woodpile reading session locked; enter password

The pyromaniac’s equivalent of the locked screen

The woodpile geeking out wasn’t the only bit of strangeness occurring on site during BarnCamp. There was also the the intriguing sounding shamanic laptop massage that happened somewhere in the surrounding woodland, for which scant photographic evidence exists.

Shamanic laptop massage montage

Shamanic laptop massage

What’s happened to the nerd gag? And what is it in the first place? This was a standard implemented some years ago to stop the less technical becoming too intimidated to the use of too much jargon by the more technically adept. Workshop presenters are encouraged to explain things properly if anyone so asks; this year there was even a space on the information wall where BarnCampers could share the jargon they had just acquired.

BarnCamp jargon buster

The jargon buster

Nevertheless, there was one workshop – Sunday morning’s session on server optimisation – that not only ripped off the nerd gag, but set light to it and threw it away! (And that was just with the first slide of the presentation! That one slide contained more technical acronyms than the rest of the programme put together. Ed.) However, this was perhaps the most jargon-laden session of the weekend and the most geeky, but it did come with lots of laughs… as long as you could get the jokes.

I hope all my fellow BarnCampers had as good a weekend as I did and once again my thanks go out to the good folk at Highbury Farm for their friendliness and hospitality. See you at the next one! 🙂


pack shot of sausagesToday for breakfast I indulged in some sausages; not just any sausages, but Sainbury’s Outdoor Bred Pork Sausages. They were delicious and disappeared off the plate in double-quick time.

However, there was one thing that stuck in my throat: the product name.

Can inanimate objects – even ones made of once living matter – breed?

If so, I should congratulate Sainbury’s on this fine achievement in the field of al fresco coitus? If not, should I condemn their marketing department for coming up with an idiotic product name that’s a complete physical impossibility?

Digging further into this term, it is apparent that Sainsbury’s are not the only sinners here, as a quick image search for “outdoor bred” sausages will reveal. Moreover, if I had my way, Tesco, Waitrose, Rankin, Morrison’s, Marks & Spencer, Asda and many more suppliers should all be standing in the corner of the room with Sainsbury’s trying on the dunce’s hat for size. 🙂

Nevertheless, my suggesting that all these corporate grocers are a bunch of illiterates is perhaps being a bit hasty and an over-reaction. Time for some final research.

Consulting the Good Housekeeping Institute’s site, I find that outdoor bred actually has a specific meaning in food labelling terms, as follows:

As with Outdoor Reared, this tends to apply to pork and means the pigs are born outside. However, after a few weeks they’re brought inside for fattening.

So, outdoor bred is a proper food labelling term, although I do wish people would think more clearly about the connotations of naming products.

Made redundant? No, I was ‘catalyzed’

For decades, managers have been trying to come up with anodyne terms for dismissing people and making them redundant.

Some of the more common ones are: give someone their notice, get rid of, discharge, terminate; lay off; sack, give someone the sack, fire, boot out, give someone the boot, give someone their marching orders, show someone the door, can, pink-slip; cashier.

Following this trend, bosses at Bristol City Council have now come up with another, ‘to catalyze’, as evidenced by a mole down the Counts Louse (since renamed ‘City Hall’ by Mayor Red Trousers (posts passim). Ed.) who tweeted the following yesterday.

screenshot of BCCDisgruntled tweet

I’m sure all employees of the council are reassured that the management has their best interests at heart by not wanting to hurt their feelings as they’re unceremoniously handed their P45s and shown the door.

The Golden Bull Awards 2012

image of the Golden Bull trophy

The Golden Bull, the ultimate accolade for gobbledygook

I might not always agree with everything done by the Plain English Campaign, but I must commend them for their excellent work in combating the spread of impenetrable and confusing jargon by both public sector organisations and the private sector with their annual Golden Bull Awards. The Golden Bull Awards are presented annually for the year’s ‘best’ examples of gobbledygook.

This year’s awards were announced yesterday, 10th December, and there are some real corkers amongst the winners.

For instance, there’s the following from the newly created Cheshire, Warrington and Wirral NHS Commissioning Support Service:

A unique factor of the NHS Cheshire Warrington and Wirral Commissioning support organisation is its systematised methodology for project and programme management of small, medium, large service re-design and implementation
Building in equality and risk impact assessments the options are taken through a process to arrive at the content for an output based specification and benefits foreseen as a result of the implementation.

The service is inclusive of full engagement with Clinical Commissioning Groups who direct at decision-making points how they wish the proposal to be deployed (re-commmisson, de-commission or changes to current services/providers), and lastly an implementation team who see the service redesign through to evaluation and benefits realisation.

Another fine example comes from the London Borough of Enfield for this extract from a letter about a building’s change of use.


I am writing to inform you that on the 15th October 2012, the London Borough of Enfield made a direction (reference: Art 4HMO) under article 4(1) of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 as amended.

The direction relates to development consisting of a change of the use of a building to a use falling within Class C4 (houses in multiple occupation) of the Schedule to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 from a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of that Schedule, and removes permitted development rights for this type of development from the date when the direction comes into force.

Finally, a private sector example. Can you decode this extract from the Investors’ Report of December 2011 from The Children’s Mutual?

UBS believe that the ‘New Normal’ economic environment of relatively low growth means that the ability to differentiate between secular and cyclical growth opportunities becomes more important and that for the foreseeable future the main driving influence on market sentiment will be the structural adjustments and the political capital required to help mitigate the contractionary influence of low growth.

What this means for portfolio construction is that in a low growth, low return, capital constrained environment, competitive advantage favours a combination of income generative, conservatively funded, self sustaining businesses – groups that UBS class as “dividend aristocrats” and who are experiencing secular growth. This leads UBS to their long-term core investment objective of being invested in high quality businesses.

If any passing reader can render the above quotations into plain English, please feel free to do so in the comments below.

Little Brother alive and well in North Somerset

North Somerset strikes me as a somewhat ambivalent area of the country. On the one hand, it has town councils eager to indulge in Luddism and hold back the tide of technology (posts passim). On the other, the unitary authority – North Somerset Council – seems eager to do its bit for Orwell‘s dystopian vision of the future in its own Little Brother-ish way.

North Somerset Council is apparently compiling a database of email addresses of people who choose that means of contacting it, according to a report in today’s Bristol Post.

According to the council, this database is for use to contact people in an emergency and will not be passed on to third parties.

However, the council has only just released details of the existence of this email address database once it had already collected 20,000 entries.

According to a council spokesman: “The central database complies with data protection and email addresses will not be shared or sold to third parties (now where have we heard that before? Ed.).

“This is just another way of the council being able to communicate with its residents should an emergency situation arise.

“The addresses will not be used for any other reason. People who do not want to be contacted in this way can ask to have their details removed from the database.”

Isn’t that reassuring? People can have their details removed from the database if they don’t want to be contacted by this means. This means North Somerset residents will have to take action themselves to be removed from a list that they probably didn’t want – or consent – to be added to in the first place.

There’s far too much of this kind of data scraping going on. It would have been better if North Somerset Council had sought the informed consent of its email correspondents before adding them automatically to its database, but then again that would involve treating people like intelligent human beings. However, this is a highly unlikely prospect given that North Somerset Council has an even greater propensity than its big neighbour Bristol to refer disingenuously to its residents as ‘customers’. 🙁

Go to Top