They do it to goad me...

21st April 2006 at 01:00
Unravelling the jargon of education speak

Science fiction is full of stories in which seemingly benevolent aliens turn up to give us the benefit of their advanced technology and civilisation. They help us bring an end to illness, poverty, drought, famine and Celebrity Big Brother, while all the time secretly working for our destruction.

The story that is never told is the one about seemingly benevolent education experts who help us learn to read, write, add up and jump over large wooden things in gymnasia, while all the time secretly working toward the complete devastation of the English language.

They have limitless stocks of words, many of them harmless but which, when tortured and placed next to each other, produce horrors too ghastly for, well, words. Incentive is one. They clearly believe it has mystic power, and so sprinkle it over every other document, convinced that it can bring dead prose to life. Collaborate is another, a friendly word which they often use in tandem with partnership, heedless of tautology.

But maltreat these fine words, force them together with unholy grammatical sadism, and a ghastly hybrid is formed: incentivising collaboration. This sounds like a particularly nasty and incurable disease, of the kind found up-river in hot countries. Indeed, people who have to read it often wish they were up-river in a hot country. Its meaning - encouraging people to work together - is simple enough. But that is not the point: they could have said it simply, and didn't.

The end to which these people work is the complete separation of language from meaning. More than half of their output is completely unintelligible.

There are rumours of a policy discussion document which reached a staggering 76 per cent total gibberish before the computer blew up, and all trace of it was lost. Even at 100 per cent they will not stop. They dream of immense stockpiles of super-saturated gibberish, enriched gibberish, possibly with isotopes.

Both these words, incentive and collaborate, come from Latin. Incentive began life as incentivus, which meant striking up a tune. Collaborate comes from collaborare, a late and very rare word (what does that tell us, I wonder) meaning to work together. So perhaps incentivising collaboration has nothing to do with education at all. They just want us to start a choir.

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