Banning ‘coterminous stakeholder engagement’

Any idea what that phrase means?

It’s a good example of the type of jargon that you still encounter in much of the business world.

But it’s not only the business world that’s awash with pompous words and phrases that confound and confuse normal people.

The Daily Telegraph reports that local councils have been ordered to stop using incomprehensible jargon when communicating with the public:

[…] The plain-speaking edict has been issued by the Local Government Association, which represents the interests of councils throughout England and Wales.

Sir Simon Milton, the association’s chairman, explained: "Why do we have to have ‘coterminous stakeholder engagement’ when we could just ‘talk to people’ instead?"

[…] "Without explaining what a council does in proper English then local people will fail to understand its relevance to them or why they should bother to turn out and vote."

Among the words and phrases that are now on the banned list are "multi-agency", "revenue streams", "seedbed", "improvement lever" and "community engagement."

The Telegraph’s story doesn’t say what the plain-English alternatives to these words might be.

I’m sure our local representatives will need some encouragement to speak more plainly and, thus, communicate more effectively.

So my suggestion would be that the next time you’re at your local council meeting, prepare yourself beforehand with a copy of the Buzzword Bingo game card.

Print out sufficient copies so everyone in the meeting can play the game.

I bet you know how the game works as this became quite popular in the 90s when everyone had a PDA like a Palm Pilot, a Psion, or even an Atari Portfolio (I still have one of those, tucked away in the Old Gadgets cupboard) .

So as you hear the buzzwords and jargon trotting out, mark them off on your game card until you complete a row, vertically or horizontally.

Then stand up and loudly proclaim: "Bullshit!"

It’s your civic duty.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Armin

    Can I blame you that I’ve just wasted a valuable minute of my life getting out my dictionary and looking up what ‘coterminous’ actually means? That word was new to me, I must admit.

  2. Dave Briggs

    This topic has been banged around local government quite a bit for the last year or so, with various lists of “banned” words being circulated.

    As with all plain english things, I’m in two minds. I mean, we all hate lazy and incomprehensible management speak and over use of jargon helps no one – especially in stakeholder engagement, whether coterminous or not.

    But there is, I think, an argument to be made around dumbing down, isn’t there? If we make all our communications completely understandable for people with the reading age of an 11 year old (or whatever the frankly pathetic average is in the UK) then where is the encouragement for anyone to actually improve their ability to read? Isn’t the fact that Armin was motivated to get his dictionary out and discover a new word a good thing?

  3. neville

    Is it really about dumbing down, Dave? It seems to me that it is or should be more about talking like normal people do without using words and phrases that a) make the speaker seem condescending or patronizing, and b) help the person listening to you actually understand what you’re saying and so providing them with an opportunity to respond, ie, engage.

    Heh! ‘Engage’ is one of the banned words…

    Armin, I was the same: no idea at all what that word meant. I looked it up, too, and I still don’t understand it.

  4. Dave Briggs

    I’m not sure – as I said above, made-up management speak is vile and should be banned everywhere. But isn’t it also patronising to assume that people aren’t capable of understanding words of more than two syllables?! The english language is a wonderful thing, and I think that our ability to communicate would be much the poorer without the richness that it offers us, even if from time to time we have to turn to the dictionary.

  5. neville

    I agree, Dave, but this is about using words and phrases that are just jargon, not about dumbing down or being patronizing by using simpler alternatives.

    That phrase in the post headline is a perfect example.

    “Coterminous stakeholder engagement.” Good grief! And if that’s not patronizing, I don’t know what is.

  6. robert scott

    Hello, just stumbled across this randomly, as you do on the web.

    I expect you have all moved on by now but as someone who makes their living from writing (journalism, tv, etc) what makes my blood boil about local authority or most other needless jargon in particular is the way it is used to over-complicate straightforward propositions. It becomes a lingua franca for a certain kind of bureaucrat which at once seeks to exclude everyone outside that bureaucratic loop and at the same time apparently enhances the status of the person using the language- until, of course, someone points out, emperor’s new clothes style, that all this fancy polysyllabism (see? I can do it too) does not actually add anything at all to the meaning of the words that are in every day use. Oh, and it is aesthetically ugly into the bargain.

    Using long words for the sake of it is not the preserve of clever people, Neville. On the contrary, it is a flimsy refuge for those who are so uncertain of their own language that they do not dare use it without dressing it up in those emperor’s new clothes. A bit like the emperor, they end up sounding even more absurd.

    There’s one other point here which needs to be made. English is an incredibly rich language which draws its strength from its many diverse roots. Latin and Greek and the Romance languages, which is where a lot of the longer words come from, are fine. But the shorter chunkier words from Saxon and Germanic roots (dog, book, do, see) are just as good. IN fact, I’m rather a fan of single syllables. There is nothing “better” about using the word “herbivore” instead of saying “an animal which eats plants.” Nor, to come back to where we came in, is there anything clever in itself about saying “coterminous” when you mean “ends in the same place”.

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