Category Archives: bureaucratese

A challenging context

Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War

A colleague of Dalrymple heard a nurse, who had climbed up the greasy pole to become finance director of her hospital, say,

The future projection of the current fiscal envelope predicts a challenging context.

This, says Dalrymple,

makes Emperor Hirohito’s radio announcement after the Americans dropped the atom bombs — that developments had taken place that were not necessarily to Japan’s advantage — seem brutally frank.

With a little polishing,

it could be upgraded in writing to complete incomprehensibility.

The projection was

shorn of all human agency, as was the prediction of a challenging context, to say nothing of the overspending by the hospital and its finance director.

How to get ahead in a state or corporate bureaucracy

The pseudo-poetic metaphors are about as inspirational as a cargo ship’s ballast

The vital quality, writes Dalrymple, is

the mastery of, and willingness to use, a certain kind of language that is opaque and almost meaningless to an outsider. The mastery requires dedication, and the willingness a lack of scruple. It demands a certain intelligence, but not high intelligence. Mediocrities do it best because others are impatient of it.

The language

is peculiar to itself, and makes a speech by the late Leonid Brezhnev seem like a soliloquy by Hamlet. Full of neologisms, its words have connotations but no definite meaning can be fixed to them. Vagueness is essential because only then can responsibility be denied when things go wrong. It is ugly and circumlocutory, but with occasional pseudo-poetic metaphors that are supposed to be inspirational but are as exciting as a cargo ship’s ballast.

This bureaucratese, says Dalrymple

is ever more widespread. It has left few corners of our world uninvaded. It is to be found almost everywhere. It is native to government, of course, but it is certainly not confined to government. Large companies employ it, as do educational institutions.

A question he has long pondered

is whether anyone, in the privacy of his mind, employs such language. I suspect that after a time those who employ it can use no other.

Your own business is not your own business

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 09.22.59In order to be able to process some detail of his financial affairs, Dalrymple finds himself having to deal with one of the sprawling, impersonal, inefficient and unresponsive banking bureaucracies, one of those that

has repeatedly been forced to admit that it has engaged on huge-scale dishonesty that has cost it billions in fines and reparations (though I am not quite sure how much faith as to their sincerity or justification I should place in such admissions).

The bank demands — using in its communications always the passive voice — that Dalrymple, a mere writer (rather than, say, a trader specialising in interbank lending rates), ‘confirm the source of funds which have been deposited’ in his account.

Impenetrable drivel unworthy of the faculty of speech

The linguistic effluent that has engulfed Western society and economy

The linguistic effluent that is engulfing Western society and economy

Managerialese is the revenge of the unscrupulous and mediocre on the talented and principled

People who become managers in public service organisations and in large commercial firms, writes Dalrymple,

speak a kind of language that is neither colloquial nor technical nor philosophical nor literary nor precise nor poetic nor even quite human.

He asks whether their utterances correspond to what is going through their mind, or whether they have to translate their thoughts

into this simulacrum of language.

The bullshit piles up so fast you need wings to stay above it

The bullshit has piled up so fast you need wings to stay above it

No man of education and feeling can bear the tedium of it. A virus has entered the brain to

disarrange its language centres, rather as a stroke does.

Scourge of the talking robots

The source of the malady might, he suggests, lie with industrial concerns

and perhaps the business schools that trained their managers, as primates in the forests of Central Africa were the source of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Infection often escapes its original nidus to infect the surrounding population of the susceptible, in this case managers in and of the public service made susceptible by Margaret Thatcher’s ill-fated notion that the public service could be some kind of replica of private business.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 11.26.35Verbigeration

Dalrymple points out that the argot is both a symptom and a sustainer of a social revolution. Those who consult its claims are

ruthless and ambitious, mediocre in everything except in the scale of their determination to rule some tiny roost or other, and be paid accordingly. The quid pro quo is that they must learn a new language, whose mastery is far from easy: I am sure that if my readers will try to speak for only a few minutes in managerialese they will find it almost impossible, for meaning will keep breaking through their best attempts at meaninglessness.

Xyloglots of the NHS

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 08.20.50Brezhnevian jargon of managers in the UK’s National Health Service

The language these managers use, writes Dalrymple, is

a mixture of moral exaltation and tedious bureaucratese.

He wonders whether what the NHS managers say

actually corresponds to the thoughts that run through their heads, or whether they have to translate them into langue de bois.