Re-baselining jargon

Actually, I don’t know what the above title of this post means. I have googled ‘re-baselining’ and found several examples of its use, but no indication of its meaning; I cannot even tell the meaning from sentences in which it appears. But I know it’s a word, in at least someone’s opinion, because the spellchecker on my computer accepts it.

But whatever it means, it has been banned by the UK’s Local Government Association, as it is included in a list of jargon not to be used by British local authorities. Some of the words and phrases are banned because they are clichés: these include ‘thinking outside the box’, ‘horizon scanning’ and ‘value added’ (though not, to my dismay, the terrible ‘going forward’ which has become such a verbal tick with many people). Others are banned because they are impenetrable, such as ‘predictors of beaconicity’ and ‘coterminous stakeholder engagement’. And ‘re-baselining’.

At the same time British police have also been instructed to stop using what is being called ‘ploddledygook’ (with reference to Enid Blyton’s policeman ‘Mr Plod’), and to avoid phrases in reports such as ‘exited the vehicle’ when they meant ‘got out of the car’.

Universities are also notoriously fond of jargon, and like most jargon users often don’t realise they are even doing it. We often bombard school leavers with marketing talk that includes ‘modular’, ‘continuous assessment’, ‘dissertation’, ‘learning outcomes’ and the like – not to mention a whole mountain of incomprehensible acronyms like APEL (‘accreditation of prior learning’, if you must know – and don’t ask me why the ‘E’ is there…). And when you get on to a university committee, if you’re not familiar with the jargon you might as well switch off, because none of it will make any sense whatsoever. But if you wish, you can consult this very helpful glossary of such stuff offered by the University of Sussex.

Speaking in impenetrable phrases is not a sign of sophistication or advanced excellence, it is a sign of intellectual laziness and of a failure to understand that we must be accessible as well intelligent. I think I’ll start right here and draw up a list of words and phrases I’ll stop using. Suggestions for entries are welcome.

Oh, and if you know what ‘re-baselining’ means do let me know, and I’ll have learnt something.

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8 Comments on “Re-baselining jargon”

  1. Wendymr Says:

    How about ‘do you have bandwidth for this?’ Or even those dreaded examples of jargon semesterisation and modularisation!

  2. Don’t know if it’s used in the context you’re referring to, but “re-basing” is used when illustrating how two quantities (typically stocks) have changed relative to each other over some period: at the start of the period of interest you normalise both values to (for example) 100, and then show their change relative to this shared base.

    Unless you’re paying attention, you might read such a graph as showing the actual value of the quantities rather than their relative change. I can see how that might cause confusion in local governments’ presentations of figures…

    — Simon

  3. iain Says:

    of course the “e” in APEL is because it stands for Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning, which is distinct from APL.

  4. iain Says:

    very good point!! I agree

  5. Jilly Says:

    ‘Quality Assurance’, anybody?!

  6. cormac Says:

    I thik there is a difference between meaningless jargon and specific words that are meaningless only to the outsider: e.g. semesters and modules have specific meanings
    What should be banned are meaningless metaphors such as
    – level playing pitch
    – ducks in a row
    – going forward
    – black hole


  7. kp Says:

    Rebaselining is also a project related term. It means to re-establish a baseline, where a baseline is an estimate of time or cost over the life of a project.

    It is used when there is an approved change to a project, essentially moving the goal posts but in a legitimate sense not just an arbitrary change of mind.

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