We’re all aware, or should be, of the power of language. It’s one of the central ideas of 1984, that you can direct or restrict thought by what words you use for real concepts.

If that doesn’t convince you—it’s fiction, right—here’s a real-life example of how language alters perceptions. This is a list of language changes compiled by the Institute for Government after consultation with members of the Conservative Shadow Cabinet and advisers. It shows changes in words and you can perceive shifts in policy. Some mean exactly the same thing, and within the organisations where this sort of language is in use everyone knows what they mean—but they’re designed to feel different and direct thought.

IN

OUT

Delivery/roll-out

Implementation

Investment

Spending

Demand side

Supply side

Top-down

Bottom-up

Target

Payment-by-results

Regional

Local

State

Society

Strategy

Business Plan

Evidence based

Principles based

Partnership agreements

Post-bureaucratic state

Stakeholder

Social Responsibility

Active centre

Departments

I’m not about to rant against jargon (I’m not a fan, but industry shorthand is almost inevitable) nor am I about to suggest that most people do this sort of thing consciously. This is just to illustrate the power of word choice in communications.

Now read this:

#localgov types really should follow @johnbarradell, B&H CEX and all-round good guy. #followThursday #Brighton

B&H CEX? I worked it out, but it took a while. A while I could have spent following the guy.

It's the private view for our Visual Communications MA students, and others, tomorrow. 6PM at BIAD Gosta Green campus, nr. Aston Uni.

So it reads like an invitation, but it’s to something ‘private’? Huh? Can I go?

I’ve worked out over a few years that “private view” means two things: if a show is big and important it means “no entry unless you’re invited”, if a show is small or not that well known it means “please come, there’ll be free wine and nibbles”. It’s developed as art-jargon for some reason, and people who know know and those that don’t don’t. But it does put off people who might otherwise have liked to have attended—and the smaller shows could do with that, in fact they want it.

So, just a reminder to think about the words you use if you’re trying to communicate—strip jargon and abbreviations where you can.

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