A decade ago Don Watson wrote the definitive book on management speak called ‘Weasel Words‘. It illustrates the way in which bureaucrats and politicians’ highly crafted messages obfuscate meaning and hide the truth. As Watson wrote “this dead, depleted, verbless jargon is becoming the language of daily life.”
The marketing guru Seth Godin recently asked the question on his blog ‘does vocabulary matter?’ He highlighted Randall Munroe’s concise and clear explanation of how the Saturn V rocket works using only a thousand commonly used words.
As Godin remarked:
It’s not about knowing needlessly fancy words (but it’s often hard to know if the fancy word is needless until after you learn it). Your vocabulary reflects the way you think (and vice versa). It’s tempting to read and write at the eighth-grade level, but there’s a lot more leverage when you are able to use the right word in the right moment.
Professor John Hattie once commented at a conference that ‘metacognition’ was just a fancy way of referring to thinking about learning. He preferred to use the latter.
Education has fallen into the jargon web, which is ironic because as leaders/teachers we are entrusted to do daily what Randall Munroe has done – simplify the complex not complexify the simple.
The list is in no way exhaustive but here are some ‘weasel words’ proffered by some of my colleagues:
- anything strategic (e.g focus, pillars, alignment, teaching)
- building teacher capacity
- deprivatising teacher practice
- empowered/self-regulated learners
- rigorous learning
- guided thoughtfulness
Of all professions, we have a special responsibility to ensure we don’t take a reductionist approach and to consider whether some of these terms detract from describing the depth and richness of our work. That work is to bring the world alive by bringing language alive. The goal, as Watson expresses in his book is to save language for future generations.