ITN stop press: cut the grandiose jargon

8th October 2004 at 01:00
I was reading through papers the night before attending a senior managers'

conference and came upon what may or may not have been a typo. The reason I wasn't sure was because the document seemed to have been written in a foreign language and made little sense to me from the start.

From its heading I could see that it was a Project Initiation Document, or PID for short. I had previously thought that PID stood for pelvic inflammatory disease of a sexually transmitted nature, but I have adjusted my mental glossary of terms so that it now computes as something that involves no fun at any stage of the proceedings.

If I was at all concerned about my own lack of comprehension, I was reassured the next day to find that a headteacher colleague had downloaded the 27-page email, read it and come to the conclusion that it had nothing whatsoever to do with her. I wonder if she thought any differently after the conference.

No matter how hard I try to resist, I must be subconsciously listening to the speakers at these events. I become aware of a bubble forming somewhere around my midriff, rising up into my throat and eventually forcing its way out of my mouth.

I have been known to offer the odd comment, which is actually a demonstration of great restraint on my part because when phrases such as "recrunch the model" and "filling the shopping basket" register on my brain, it takes all my self-control not to run screaming from the room.

What the hell are they talking about?

A solution to my discomfort would be to decline invitations to attend such get-togethers and avoid being subjected to unintelligible power talk, but there seems to be no escape from it, even within the relative safety of school.

Occasionally, I steel myself to endure to the bottom of my in-tray and read the stuff which lurks there, threatening me. People who have less work to do than I have, seem to enjoy sending me their thoughts on what they are eventually going to get around to doing after they have stopped talking about it. For example: "My colleague and I will work hard to swing the pendulum as often as possible to the opportunity end of the spectrum."

I have used up some of my life reading this!

I was relieved to be informed last session that, after discussions which took place elsewhere about my school, a decision had been taken not to "alter the envelope". On translation, I learned this meant that the issue of our alleged under-capacity was not to be tackled by squeezing us into part of the school building and knocking down the rest of it. I was pretty sure that someone had forgotten to send me this particular envelope in the first place, so I did not waste any time looking for it at the bottom of my in-tray.

Grandiose phrases seem to be in vogue. Take "a memorandum of understanding", for example. Does that refer to a United Nations resolution or does it mean that folk actually agree about something?

I have learned that ITN has nothing to do with the telly but stands for "invitation to negotiate", which might just turn out to be a letter about a meeting to talk. Whether or not I accept and attend will depend on my finding a window of opportunity in my diary, or diarising to create one.

As long as some exit routes are still outwith my immediate reach, I am considering rebadging and working out my remaining years as a revised version of myself. As far as I can make out, this is a painless process which will require making some superficial and expensive changes to my image, while everything else goes on much as before.

Meanwhile, in an effort to improve my own attention span and that of fellow attendees at senior managers' meetings, I suggest that a Bullshit Bingo game is played throughout. Power talk soundbites would be crossed off during presentations and the winner would be the first to complete a card and shout "Habitable construction designed for the execution of life processes".

Joan Fenton is headteacher of Dyce Primary in AberdeenIf you have any comments, e-mail

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today