Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 06/07/14

Metastatic Language

So many times have I remarked about the way in which MBA-speak (or, to use a more vernacular term, Bollocksese) has infested large areas of our lives, even if we are actually outside the organisation which is practising its malignance in any particular case.

A text-book-pure example comes in a letter to the Guardian only yesterday. I reproduce it in full here, not just because any link I post to it (like this one) will take you to the top of the page it is on rather than straight to the letter in question, but because I want to highlight the most malign parts of it - and then point out a terrible, if not terrifying, irony. Here it is:

"The Transforming Cancer and End of Life care programme in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent is an innovative and brave example of the voluntary and public sectors working alongside patients, carers and health and social care professionals to deliver the best possible outcomes for people affected by cancer.

"Inspired by the experiences of people with cancer or those who have cared for someone at the end of their life in the area, this programme will test an integrated approach to the commissioning and management of care. By appointing one organisation to take responsibility for managing the whole cancer care journey, we can demand truly seamless care, and ensure no patient or carer gets lost in a complex system.

"Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and NHS England will appoint organisations with expertise in managing contracts, ensuring that all the service partners work collaboratively around each patient and will not change the organisations who directly deliver cancer care services. Whoever is appointed will be subject to rigorous oversight and scrutiny for quality, patient safety and outcomes, whether they are from the NHS, the voluntary sector, or from the private sector.

"At the heart of this programme is the desire to truly reach and improve the lives of people affected by cancer. That's why Macmillan and our partners have made sure people affected by cancer, alongside clinicians, have been and will continue to be involved in the programme at every stage."

Four short paragraphs. Each one containing at least one major crime against clear communication. I don't have the time - or the stomach - to go through each one of these outrages in turn, but I would ask you to turn your minds as to whether, as a result of the high BMI (Babble Manifestation Index) of the letter, it is possible to judge whether it is saying, a) a lot, b) a little, or c) fuck only knows.

I've left what I think is the worst part of it until last. The letter is signed:

"Ciarán Devane
Chief executive, Macmillan Cancer Support"

Now let it be clear that I am not doubting Mr. Devane's sincerity, any more than I am casting aspersions on the conduct of the organisation of which he is 'Chief executive', although I wonder why charities stopped having things called 'Chairmen/women', or 'Presidents', or even 'Patrons', and started indulging in biz-speek by having CEOs, CTOs, CFOs, COOs and - for all I know - C3POs. Perhaps it became trendy.

What is worrying is how easily such language flows from the lips or keyboards of people who - one would have hoped - would recognise the desirability of communicating in an intelligible fashion with those with whom they would wish to engage. Unless the intention was to mislead, of course, on which point I have no knowledge. As Wittgenstein might have put it:

"Whereof we may speak, thereof we may speak clearly; whereof we may not speak, thereof we should shut the fuck up lest we reveal ourselves to be a posturing little 'nana"