A man resolved to impact on jargon

10th May 1996 at 01:00
Employees of Pennsylvania's education department had a tendency to dialogue, until their boss impacted on their interfacing.

Speak intelligible English, Education Secretary Eugene W Hickok ordered his staff - or pay. Education bureaucrats caught stringing together baffling acronyms or using nouns as verbs, for example "impact", will be fined $1 (70p) for each offence.

"As a people, Americans have become rather lazy in the way we use our language," said Mr Hickok. "We lack precision in our writing and we use a lot of jargon and slang."

A former professor of law and political science and a father of two, he said educators - of all people - must speak clearly and grammatically and choose their words correctly.

"What we need to do in schools is to raise the level of our expectations. Every department of education in every state ought to be trying to set the bar as high," he said.

Yet educators' language is becoming more, not less, obscure, he said, and nothing is more disturbing to a parent than walking into a room with educators and feeling as though you are not part of their conversation.

Among the acronyms Hickok has banned from his department: MAWA for mutually acceptable written agreement; MOU for memorandum of understanding; and WADM for weighted average daily membership or enrolment of a school district.

Hickok recalls an employee saying once: "Would you care to dialogue about your vision?" He replied: "No, but I'll be happy to talk about it."

Violators pay their fines into a "jargon jar". About $20 (Pounds 14) has been collected so far; it will go to an education-related charity.

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