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Translation Required: Do you know what these five news phrases actually mean? 16 March 2018

You’re busy, I’m busy, so I keep these thoughts to a few pithy paragraphs once a month — I hope you find them both amusing and useful!

A few years back, when I was on secondment training BBC journalists, I set myself a rather agreeable assignment.  I visited a local pub with my Iphone, and asked anyone who was prepared to talk to me if they knew what three particular phrases (often heard on the news) actually meant.    I wonder if you do?

  1. Judicial Review
  2. Government White Paper
  3. Government Green Paper

The results confirmed my hunch.  We journalists often forget one of our primary roles: to translate things.   Many of the drinkers in that pub had a decent stab at it, and I seem to remember that a couple got two out of three spot on, but most were rather perplexed.   (A judicial review, by the way, is when the courts step in to take a long hard look at a public decision; a government White Paper is what ministers want to do once they’ve sounded them out in an earlier set of ideas, their Green Paper.  I looked them all up to find out.)

I think my little experiment was a wakeup call for the journalists I was training, and I think there’s a lesson in there for business, too.  We don’t like to admit when we don’t know things, so we shelter behind a quiet hope that other people do.  Honestly?  How often have you written or approved a document for public consumption that you haven’t fully understood yourself, using phrases borrowed from someone a bit senior, in the blind hope that everyone else probably does understand them?

Here are a couple more, rather topical.

  1. Screenplay
  2. Customs Union

Confession time: I had to google ‘screenplay’ once to find out what all those earnest people were actually winning at the BAFTAS and Oscars — the Arts Correspondents never actually used the word ‘script’.   And I’m still wrestling with the difference between the Customs Union, a Customs Union, and the European Union.

It’s good to know I’m not alone thinking this.  Arnando Iannuci, the actor and director, made this very point in an excellent podcast a few weeks ago.  Reporters, executives, film-makers, politicians — we often speak the language we’re fluent in, and forget at our peril that not everyone in our audience has taken the advanced class.   So let me end on a challenge.  What phrases would you put in a Dictionary of your business’s jargon, and what would the translations be?

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