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.
6 thoughts on “Saving language”
Love this one Greg it would be wonderful if we could get rid of the BS and use terms like well what did you Learn? How did you Learn and How do you think you could have learned better? John
Thanks John. Great questions that get to the very heart of learning and teaching.
Learn, learning & learners are clear words and easily understood.
The worst weasel phrase I know: authentic learning.
Agree. I’ve always wondered what inauthentic learning is!
We talk about this all the time in our staffroom! However, I do think a profession needs ‘esoteric jargon’. One of the problems with raising the status of teaching as a profession is that almost every parent has been to school for 12/13 years and think they know what a teacher does. At least if we have our own professional ‘speak’ we show parents that we have esoteric knowledge which they don’t have.
Tracey, it is often said that everyone is an expert at education because we’ve all been through the experience but that doesn’t necessarily lead to sustainable change or policy. However, I do believe your point relates to the need to raise the status of the profession in the community – greater trust of teachers leads to greater autonomy in making decisions that improve learning outcomes for each student.