Jargon 7

Just because there is plenty of other limp jargon out there…..

I did think about stopping talking about jargon during Holy Week but then I thought if jargon is merely words that people use unwittingly to express a whole lexicon of meaning in a single word/words, lets apply it to today. Ok, how about ‘After Jesus had shared the bread and wine, he said ‘I commend this practice to you’.

He never did, did he? The actions of this day are forceful verbs; words that mean something and imply some hard committment. This is my last example of Methodist jargon (and I wonder what other denominations use this almost meaningless, ‘soft’ word) and it is a word that I have little clue as to what it means when it is used:-

‘I commend this practice to you’

‘This report is commended for your reading’

‘Let me commend to you’.

I mean, no one actually uses this word in normal speech do they? I can understand someone saying ‘This practice speaks to me; have a go in your own life’ or ‘There is some important stuff in this report; read it’ or even ‘Try this out.’ All of those phrases have a bit of force to them (ok I use ‘stuff’ as jargon. But that word is endearing; just like me) and have a bit of ‘go’ to them. I might not like what you are asking me to do, but at least your use of words engenders a reaction.

But ‘commend’? The word is bland; if it were a colour it would be beige- if it were coffee it would be Mellow Bird’s (coffee for people who don’t like the taste of coffee… ok my tongue is firmly in my cheek), if it were music it would be ‘Micheal Bolton’s Greatest Hits on the panpipes’. Pleasant, inoffensive lexical wallpaper, but ultimately meaning or signifying nothing.

Whenever I hear it, I blanche (usually as a good introvert, inwardly) and whenever I read it it says to me ‘I honestly have no feelings of any depth about this practice/report/ book/instruction but thought I better use some verb; feel free to ignore it at your leisure’.  I could say that I think of the user ‘and when did you last speak to someone outside the church bubble and have to gain a hearing?’; but as a good ordained person I do not think such base and uncharitable thoughts.

If you are in the habit of using this verb as you can’t think of another one to use- well then I commend this blog posting to you.

Jargon 6

(please get me out of here…)

Jargon is a shorthand to communicate something quickly to an audience in the know. Or should I say ‘folk’ in the know.

It has often puzzled me why it is possible to refer to ‘people’, ‘audience’ or ‘congregation’, but in Methodist circles (they are like normal circles, except less precise than geometric ones and usually involve drinking more tea), this word is changed to ‘folk’. Someone who normally communicates using the words ‘people’, ‘audience’ or ‘congregation’, switches the word to ‘folk’ in a Methodist context.

I don’t know why this should be the case; is it a yearning for an imagined bucolic past when simple souls related gladly and thankfully together or another example of trying to speak a different language when referring to church stuff? I suspect it is the latter; I have tried never knowingly to use it in this context. Indeed, whenever I hear someone refer to ‘the Methodist folk’ or the ‘good folk of Bogg Street Wesleyan’, as a good ‘I’ on the Myers Briggs scale I inwardly wince and think ‘get me out of here’; outwardly I smile, thin-lipped. At 46, my inner Victor Meldrew grows stronger each day….

If there is a good reason for it, leave it in the comments so I can learn something. If there isn’t- at least when I’m around- please speak normally; church is God’s agency in the world, not God’s seperate planet.

Of course one should only use the word when referring to ‘folk music’. I was going to say one should only happily use the word when referring to folk music, except I would be lying as folk music does not make me happy; it makes me dread….

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In the last few years I have noticed the rise of the qualifying objective to underline a decision. For example it is no longer any good to say that a decision has been made on economic grounds or social care principles (now there is a whole host of pure and impure motives hidden behind jargon…), but rather ‘sound’ or ‘robust’ economic grounds/social care principles.

Does this mean ‘more than’ economic grounds? Does it mean ‘more carefully researched’ economic grounds? I suspect neither; more likely that a decision is reached, opposition is anticipated or even those making the decision being unsure about it and hence the addition of adjectives to deflect opposition or give the proponents ‘dutch courage’.

And so pastoral reasons or mission principles become ‘sound’ or ‘robust’.

Please; stop it. Just as I know that when I appear strident or over certain it is a mask for internal confusion or uncertainty; learn a little honesty or openness. It won’t kill you; the strident voices may bray a bit more but most of us will embrace you even if we don’t agree with you.

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I have long got past the stage of getting worked up about doctrine etc: not that I don’t think it is unimportant- it is just that I get tired of flame wars and that notorious oxymoron: ‘Fighting for Christian truth’.

People are more important ; what I do involves people and not abstruse speculation- it is a privilege to listen to their stories and be with them at hard points in their life. I find it humbling: ‘tread carefully as you walk on holy ground.’

Some people call this ‘pastoral work’; I do occasionally- although I have a jaundiced take on this: when I had my sabbatical 4 years ago I threw away all my books on ‘pastoral theology’. I did it to make space for my Wisden Cricketers’ Almanacs. It is not that I am of the school of ‘pull yourself together and praise God’ school (although I have met some like that), it is just that the books I had seemed so useless, limp and embarrased about God. What they covered could have been just as easily covered in ‘counselling’ or ‘psychology’; in fact they could well have been better books if they were more honest about that.

I have tried; not always succesfully, to steer clear of the phrase ‘pastoral reasons’ as I have heard it used so often as a catch all for bad or inconsistent practice or just plain not being honest.

Currently, a case is wending it’s way through the courts about a Methodist minister who is seeking to pursue a case for ‘constructive dismissal’. At present this is not possible: we are not employees and therefore have no employment rights. We have a set of conditions, which are not legally enforceable but generally help to provide a higher standard of care than in the market place. The problem is when things go wrong, pastorally trained people in leadership struggle to chart a consistent path to resolution and arbitration. The phrase ‘pastoral reasons’ is often used.

A gross caricature of this would be:-

‘We wanted to put the fire out and rescue the people, but there were pastoral reasons not to do so.’

‘You were against murder but he wanted to murder 100 people. We felt that there were pastoral reasons to murder 20 people this year and 20 next year.’

Jargon is used as shorthand; when I have seen variations of this phrase used in this area it has often been a smokescreen for bad practice and inconsistent thinking- people get hurt and covering it up in ‘pastoral reasons’ does not help…

As with all jargon- think before you use it and try and be honest. I well remember the famous ‘Father Ted’ and the episode where they tried to train Father Jack to not foul up. Anything that was contentious or controversial, they trained him to say ‘That would be an ecumenical matter’. I really, really hope that when I use the phrase ‘pastoral reasons’ it is not as a smokescreen to hide bad practice or mistakes by myself but it is for the sole reason that I have tried to put people first…..



Have you noticed how ‘Piece of work’ has become almost de rigeur in describing an activity that has been done? Think:-

‘That piece of work has been completed’

‘They produced a good piece of work’

‘They are engaged in a piece of work’

Growing up, I had been used to that phrase describing what a child did- ‘O, that’s a good piece of work: lets stick it on the wall’. In other words: something small, a physical product, not something that was a lengthy process with a report at the end or even (King with no clothes again), something that took a long time and didn’t really turn out like we expected.

Just as in the 80s/90s a ‘workshop’ shifted from being a place where arduous manual work was undertaken to any gathering of people doing training (think: ‘an awareness worshop’ or a ‘consciousness raising workshop), so in the 2010s has ‘piece of work’ become. So I don’t want to hear anymore that it was a ‘good piece of work’ or ‘that piece of work has been completed’: explain to me exactly what has been done- don’t use shorthand to the extent that it becomes meaningless.

This definition from the ‘Urban dictionary’ may help:-

Someone who — although often interesting — is difficult to get along with on an every day basis. They often make simple things overly complex, or argue points ad infinitum.
Can you drive by my house this evening on your way to work?

Sure, I’ll drive by. Do you want me to stop and pick you up when I’m driving by?

Of course I do. You’re a real piece of work, aren’t you?

I rest my case.



‘That was a good time’, ‘You know, I really enjoyed that’ or even ‘Many people spoke of how that time meant so much to them’ are ways that people might express how much a particular event spoke or connected to them (bear with me; I am not by nature a creative writer). What I have noted recently is the overuse of the word ‘enriching’ within official circles to describe an experience.

It almost seems to be unconscious or reflex; articles I may have read seriously I now stop reading as soon as that word appears. Please don’t tell me that something was ‘an enriching experience’ or ‘rich with meaning’; tell me what that really meant to you. Few of us out in RealWorld ™ use that combination of words to describe something that set us on fire inside or made us sing.

Sometimes I suspect the word is used dishonestly: ‘an enriching experience’ is used as a shorthand for something that has been difficult or where there was disagreement. That cannot be admitted publicly, so those words are used as a ‘gloss’. When the king has no clothes- say it, don’t cover it.

Please; stop using it or use it occasionally if you must- think about your words. You may end up connecting with more people if you do.

Happy St David’s Day; for someone who used to live in Wales and whose children were born there, this is an occasion rich with meaning (translation: I am English, I am settled here, but part of me looks with longing to Wales and the circumstances of leaving still occasionally cause pain....).



*Spoiler: I may well display sarcasm and attempt biting satire in this post. Also, I may well fail at doing that…*

A few years back I was in a meeting. I am in a lot of meetings. Occasionally I get frustrated with the amount and the quality of meetings that I attend.

A nadir came a few years back. People from outside the normal meeting clientele had been invited as guests to a particular meeting. My practice whenever this happens, whether socially, in worship, in meetings etc is that the newcomer is most important. This meeting rambled on for nearly 2 hours without the newcomers being addressed until a thorny issue came up. Conscious of the time, it could have been shelved and, belatedly the newcomers involved. Instead of which the leader said ‘Lets have a conversation about this.’ I was too polite to do anything, but inwardly I seethed. This was the moment, when the word ‘conversation’, with the implied meaning ‘A Conversation’ hit me as pure theological (Methodist) jargon. I have seen this used, and perhaps overused in recent years:-

*A meeting that seems to acheive little and where the elephant in the room is never named becomes ‘A Conversation’ viz: ‘A Conversation was held with ecumenical leaders’ subtext ‘we acheived nothing, stayed in our corners, avoided difficult stuff and no one was saved; so lets dignify it with a good sounding word’. The church world, particularly at it’s higher levels, is too full of things like this. Please don’t dignify bad practice with a title: ‘A Conversation’.

*‘Perhaps we might have A Conversation about this.’ Why can’t you just ‘have a chat’- normal people do? Hmmm…why can’t you just come to the point and be honest?

* Worst of all, in the field where I work there are few things that are definite and fixed. A minority are and lend themselves to concise and logical thinking with agreed outcomes. However, put this in the context of a ‘pastorally trained’ brain and consistent thinking disappears to be replaced by ‘A Conversation’. I don’t want ‘A Conversation’ thank you very much; I’d like consistency, agreed outcomes and some yes and no’s please….

At worst ‘A Conversation’ is nothing more than fuzzy thinking, hot air and no progress. There are places and spaces for long conversations (small c) that raise difficult stuff, involve deep honesty and are open, but please, please stop using ‘A Conversation’ with the frequency that it is used and making it an ‘entity’ . Learn to speak like normal people….

I’ll stop there. I’m frothing at the mouth….


A while back, I was in a meeting talking about a report and someone said ‘Let Graham read it; he is good at spotting jargon’. I am not sure how genuine that was, or whether it was just banter.

But, in a week of a review and with some space it has got me thinking about jargon. We need shorthand sometimes to communicate complex concepts quickly. Sometimes this shorthand unconsciously slips into jargon; the language becomes too self-referential. I can remember the 80s and early 90s talking about playing ‘Management jargon bingo’. The idea was that you had a grid with a set number of phrases on. You won if a speaker used them all: ‘management by walking around’, ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’, ‘run it up the flagpole and see who salutes’, ‘over egging the pudding’, ‘blue sky thinking’ anyone? You should have scored double if the speaker did this without irony.

Some words are overrused in official Methodist jargon right now. I am thinking of doing a series of weekly posts on some of these words (on Thursday…. for no other reason that the French word is Jeudi and Jeudi alliterates with jargon….).

So here are the words. I would like suggestions of other words I have missed:-

1: Conversation. This word has stopped being ‘conversation’ and has almost become ‘Conversation’.

2: ‘Enriching’ or ‘rich’. As in ‘an enriching experience’ or ‘rich with meaning’.

3: ‘Piece of work’. As in ‘They produced a good piece of work’.

4: ‘Pastoral reasons’. As in ‘We wanted to put the fire out and rescue the people, but there were pastoral reasons not to do so.’

5: ‘Sound’ or ‘robust’. Often used as a qualifying adjective to number 4.

Some of you may read this and think ‘What is he on about’ (you may think that a lot anyway), others of you may have other pieces of jargon that I have missed in my enriching collaborative journey….. Please leave them in the comments….