Eye on Wales: Government gobbledygook under the spotlight

By Felicity Evans
Presenter, Eye on Wales

image captionDo comedies such as The Thick of It support George Orwell's theory about confusing political language?

Have you ever had an after work drink with colleagues and mocked the jargon and cliché in your workplace?

Or watched the news and thought that a politician or journalist was talking a lot and saying very little?

If you have, you're not alone. I have too and that's why an essay called Politics and the English Language, written by George Orwell in 1946 has stuck stubbornly in my head since I read it a few years ago.

In it he complains that political language is being used to confuse rather than clarify, to mislead and to give the impression of meaning where there is none.

Sixty six years on, have things got better or worse and does it matter? That's what I want to explore in this week's Eye on Wales programme.

Neil Kinnock is a fan of the essay. He tells the programme that he's read it many times during the course of his long political career.

In his first years as Labour leader he was mired in a prolonged battle with the hard left Militant Tendency.

Lord Kinnock says he returned to the essay during his leadership.

"I was reading it for a specific purpose of trying to explain to people why language in politics was absolutely fundamental in conveying accurately the messages and missions that I wanted to convey," said the Labour peer.

All the people I spoke to believe that the misuse of language has got worse since Orwell wrote his essay.

Maybe the global dominance of English makes it particularly vulnerable to this sort of corruption.

In the programme I'm keen to find out whether Welsh is similarly affected by jargon and euphemism.

Simon Brooks, a lecturer in Welsh at Cardiff University, tells me: "Translations are actually technically good, but the difference in Welsh is that the context appears too odd.

"We get used to it in English. In Welsh the density of these words isn't so great and that makes the Welsh speaker question it."

Help or hinder

One of the explanations offered in the programme for the rise in jargon is the adoption by politicians of the language of the corporate world.

And the crossover of corporate speak to the political class is perhaps particularly pertinent as we struggle in the wake of the global banking crisis.

Phrases like quantitative easing, the Libor rate and recapitalisation are now common place.

This is one of the most important stories of our age, has the language around it helped or hindered us in our understanding of what happened and what we should do about it?

Margaret Heffernan, who has appeared on the BBC's Secret Millionaire programme and has run a number of businesses, tells Eye on Wales that the use of this sort of jargon has the effect of disenfranchising ordinary people.

"I think a lot of business jargon serves to suggest that something's a great deal more complicated than it is, and if it's really complicated then you can't understand it, and if you can't understand it, then you don't have a voice."

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