The Ever Interesting Language of Defence

The use of impenetrable managerial jargon in defence and security

If you want an amusing but confusing ten minutes watch an evidence session for any of the Parliamentary Select Committees. After smashing the TV screen with your boot you might reflect on the evasive and jargon laden language used by the witnesses as they usually try to make themselves look like a David Brent parody in gold braid and sharp suits.

A few weeks ago The Telegraph reported a rebuke given by a member of the Public Administration Select Committee to Professor Dame Sally Davies (Chief Medical Officer), Jon Day CBE, (Head of the Joint Intelligence Committee), Rear Admiral John Kingwell (Director, Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre) and Dr Campbell McCafferty OBE, (Director, Civil Contingencies Secretariat) for the impenetrable use of management speak during an evidence session.

What have we really learned from all this American jargon and management speak? That is the polite way of putting it; I can think of an eight-letter word that might equally be used to describe it. How have we really benefited, as a nation, from all this jargon?

He was responding to a stream of nonsense from the witnesses including;

  • recommendations were taken on board
  • upstream capacity building
  • our generic capabilities and planning assumptions allow us to deal with a range of disruptive challenges
  • the corporate response mechanism is multi-departmental, multi-agency
  • there will be deep dives and experimentation to consider the so-whats for defence and security
  • is always on one level going to be back-casting
  • horizon scanning
  • We were consciously putting ourselves in a space where there were potential political issues
  • It is an up-and-down approach
  • We do not say what the policy—the so-what—is from that picture
  • Global Strategic Trends highlights the number of swans
  • game changers

Tip top!

Curiously absent was transformational, ground truthing and broad utility but I suppose it would not be seen as playing the strategic game with such presentational issues :)

Watch and read more.

For more laughs, pop over to Speak Like a Boss, Bullshit Generator and Bullshit Bingo

Besides the language, it was actually a very interesting session and broader subject.

On a serious point, it is painfully embarrassing to watch, please, just stop it, you sound like idiots.


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January 9, 2015 1:12 pm

Not sure its a case of them looking silly. I have watched Management, having been carefully briefed by their underlings who know what they are talking about*, spout barely recognisable guff including a few words from their earlier brief to an audience that understands the subject matter far better; when the audience start asking sensible questions on the subject that the Manager has no knowledge, all the Managers’ Gobbledegook pours forth. They look like idiots, true, but in reality they are way out of their depth and have absolutely no knowledge to impart. All the trite Exec-speak statements are pouring forth because their mouth needs to move to prove they are up to the job but there’s nothing useful to say.

*Obviously the smart thing to do is to let the underlings speak about stuff they understand, but Management is by nature arrogant, and believes only Management can be trusted not to say things that ought to be kept quiet (like “we know what you need oh Customer but Management has ordered we do something cheaper”, or “we are sorry; we didn’t catch your real requirement because oh Customer you only told our Management and they decided to pass down a completely different meaning to us”). Not that such things ever happen of course.

January 9, 2015 1:34 pm

I do this – OMG – opps ! Not quite as bad but going down the list in Speak like a boss I use quite a bit . I guess English does evolve to stop the mundane repetition of the language but there is a strong need by some to resort to jargon for them to build a big wall between them and their audience to either demonstrate their knowledge or to hide their lack of it as Chris states.

January 9, 2015 2:45 pm

Some fashionable words such as “transformation” serve as a code to signal that one is following the top brass’ direction and not to be opposed – until the inflationary use of the word kills the word’s utility as a code word and some new fashionable word picks up as the next code word.

January 11, 2015 9:43 pm

A lot of it is too sound more important and capable than they are.

Eg. ‘we retain a fullspectrum end to end land forces capabillity’ = we have a truck 3 tanks 1SP Gun And one day we will have FRES. Really we will we’ve been promised it and it will have a gun and everything…..!

January 14, 2015 10:26 am

Oh dear, I understood most of those. I really am institutionalised…
“Back-Casting” is a new one, but then I have been out of the loop lately. I fear for my sanity when I have to return from the real world.

Corporate comms are the worst, even skim-reading messages from senior management makes me feel ill. If they just said “Things are a bit crap, they are slowly getting less crap. Enjoy the holidays and come back refreshed & ready for the SDSR” I’d have a lot more respect. One could even say I felt more “engaged” and “valued” as an employee…