Language is important - it is intrinsically linked to thinking and behaviour. A survey by the Centre for Local Economic Strategy (CLES), a British association for city development, quizzed 38 voluntary agencies in Oxford on their understanding of commonly used urban regeneration terms like capacity-building, community empowerment, project outcomes, strategic objective, synergy, joined-up thinking and exit strategy.56 In almost 90 per cent of cases, more respondents had heard of a term than understood it. This indicates a high frequency of overused but misunderstood phraseology. The worst were 'capacity-building', 'synergy' and 'community empowerment'. As many of the activists did not understand the jargon, they did not know what many urban regeneration projects were seeking to achieve. Jargon detaches and disengages us from the core of what we are trying to do.
Local people talk of taking their kids 'on holiday', professionals give them 'a residential experience'; 'having a good time' is now 'learning new skills'.
Other jargon often reflects an atmosphere of political correctness. For instance, in Britain, multiculturalism has come under criticism for segregating communities and not encouraging crossovers between cultures. However, anything to do with race is seen as a minefield, as it presents so many opportunities to put your foot in your mouth and trip yourself up because you do not understand the cultural nuances of the latest words and dare not use them. This can especially be the case for council officers in planning or engineering services rather than in social and community development. They therefore stay away from these important issues, reinforcing the problems that need addressing.
Or how about 'the Council's commitment to delivering a comprehensive parks service is key to developing a sustainable parks service with a broad remit to deliver a full range of parks related services'? Or 'the final report recognizes that local government is key to the current and future success of cultural provision and development and suggests that local authorities should take the lead in establishing and servicing Cultural Planning Partnerships to achieve outcomes within the policy framework'?57 Jargon can mask a lack of content and substance.
The private sector is no better: 'Clear Channel Spectacolor's thrilling outdoor signage will add significant value to our property. This project will bring the excitement and energy that are the hallmarks of Times Square to this region. With this extraordinary volume of signage, the equivalent of three entire buildings in Times Square, this is a high-profile project that will allow us to embed clients into a truly unique marketing environment in a burgeoning marketplace.' Insipid hogwash.
Any professional field coins a technical language that justifies its existence and operations and gives the impression of specialization and exclusivity. But such language can act as a smokescreen to hide the fact that nothing is there or that something very insubstantial is. If you translated some jargon into plain English, it would come out as mundane truisms. It is often tautological or plain banal.
Clearly 'when you have new problems and want to conceptualize them, you create new language ... but was it worth getting rid of poverty in favour of social exclusion, when no-one really understood what it was ... and why get rid of social justice?'58
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