Linguistic fog in the academy
A couple of weeks ago I had a telephone call from an old friend, who works for a voluntary organisation that is currently trying to enter into a partnership with a small group of universities. He had just come from a meeting with representatives of the institutions. ‘About half way through the meeting’, he told me, ‘I suddenly realised that the whole discussion was being conducted in a foreign language. They probably thought they were speaking English, but that’s not how it sounded to me. It seems that academics are unable to get through a single sentence that does not have at least one incomprehensible (and unexplained) acronym and one bit of jargon that no outsider can understand.’
He has a point. People who work with me in Robert Gordon University know that I stop the discussion the moment an acronym appears – and at first that meant I was stopping the discussion every minute or so. At least I can learn them, but for outsiders this is not so easy, not least because the acronyms are different in each institution. It seems to be impossible for us to avoid acronyms for committee names, and for processes, programmes, strategies, plans, buildings, even people. And this alphabetical cocktail is then enriched with jargon that only insiders can understand. The result is a kind of mysterious incantation that sounds like some pagan ritual.
But this is wrong. The academy is not some obscure cult that seeks to protect its rites from non-believers. It needs to be able to engage with the wider community. So if you are an academic, drop all your acronyms, abbreviations and jargon. Go and make some sense. You know you can.