The World in Brief: Jargonbuster


The World Today
1 minute READ

Robert Silvers, the founding editor of The New York Review of Books, discussed his personal list of banned words and phrases in an interview to mark his 50th year in the chair. ‘Framework,’ said the grand old man, ‘could rightly refer to the supporting structure of a house, or a wooden construction for holding roses or hollyhocks in a garden, but now the word is used to refer to any system of thought or any arrangement of ideas. And it really means nothing.’

How right he is. A scan of the electronic database reveals 1,358 uses of the word in British newspapers in one month. There is a ‘legislative framework’, a ‘moral framework’ and a ‘macroeconomic framework’, but nothing that would support a flower, let alone a house.

Next on Silvers’ list was ‘context’, which I thought was a bit strict. But then, perhaps it is better to have an absolute ban to stamp out a word that is misused at least threequarters of the time. Again, a resort to the electronic cuttings library vindicates the wisdom of our elder – or, at least, at 83, older than most of us. It comes up with someone in The Daily Telegraph‘mastering risks in the context of realizing opportunities’.

Mr Silvers objects more strongly to ‘contextualize’, which, as he says, is ‘sometimes used to mean some sort of justification’. This time The Guardian provides a ready example: ‘Paolo Di Canio’s Roman upbringing may not excuse any fascistic beliefs he once held but it does help to contextualize them.’

Third on his list is ‘in terms of’, a bit of polystyrene filler – the example he gave was ‘in terms of culture’ – that is one of a series of phrases, including ‘a series of’, that adds to length and subtracts from clarity: ‘a sense of’, ‘a range of’, ‘the level of’, ‘the introduction of’, ‘the prospect of’, ‘in respect of’, ‘in relation to’, and so on.

Get rid of them all, and it will help to contextualize your linguistic framework.