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June 15, 2003
Universities and the English language

Classicist Dr Peter Jones prefers short and clear words, even if rather badly spelt, to the pseudo-business-speak of the modern British University. Jones mentions the verbal fog that is modern literary criticism, but says that this doesn't matter, because … well, because it doesn't matter, it's only lit. crit. But this business-newspeak is everywhere, he says.

… Take any of the following nouns: aspect, role, development, challenge, context, stakeholder, opportunity, provision, resource, direction, investment, portfolio, policy, programme, skill, track-record, liaison, quality, function, end-user, process, commitment, profile, range, environment, skills, outcome, collaboration. Throw in any of the following adjectives: key, crucial, proven, wide, broad, emerging, expanding, international, ongoing, developing, innovative, pro-active, strong, strategic, organisational, or any of the above nouns used as adjectives (‘policy relevance’, ‘information resource’). String together with verbs such as facilitate, deliver, develop, broaden, enhance, support, encourage, co-ordinate, champion, implement. That’s it. You too can soon be talking about ‘pro-active development opportunities facilitating and delivering an ongoing end-user collaboration process’.

Jones rightly identifies the Thatcher era as the time when this crap crept in. The idea that you should try to run a university like a good business came to mean in practice that the people running universities started talking like bad business managers.

Brian's Education Blog will implement a key, crucial, proven, wide, broad, emerging, expanding, international, ongoing, developing, innovative, pro-active, strong, strategic, but not all that organisational information resource and end-user collaboration process. That means that it will try to be good but may not always succeed, and that you can comment if you like.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:38 PM
Category: Higher education

Several years ago I began advising people that once they gained the ability to say "seamlessly integrated" and "functionally encapsulated" in the same sentence while keep a straight face, success in IT consulting would soon follow.

Comment by: Jim on June 16, 2003 08:34 PM

Dunno...Jones says that the universities got this kind of talk from business, but where did the businesses get it in the first place? I think this kind of jargon came mostly out of the social sciences and then migrated to business via MBA programs. The disease not native to business...I can't imagine an 1890 textile mill owner or a 1960 steel mill executive talking like this.

Comment by: David Foster on June 17, 2003 10:06 PM

cool blog, mines at blurty www.blurty.com/users/digitalangel52 i dont think that i am as intersting as you but its alayes good to hear from a new perspective!

Comment by: hillary on February 4, 2004 06:40 PM
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