When George Lucas began to create his Star Wars characters, he knew he’d need some construction permits.
“Oh, that type of robotic prototype can’t be built in a residential area with high density without the proper forms in duplicate,” he was told by Mr. Squaresville at the counter of Town Hall. “You’ll need an R2-D2.”
Later, when he was told a third version of a purchase order must be completed in triplicate for the parts needed for his next creation, a C-3PO was handed his way.
And that, sadly, was how those iconic space-age legends were born.
For the record, this marks the only time that government jargon can in anyway be appreciated. Otherwise, it has crashed the hopes and dreams of many a creative mind who may have wanted to change the world or, even more importantly, wanted to build a shed.
As for me, I am a victim like few others. You see, covering government meetings is part of my job and I have to attempt to put into layman’s terms the unspeakable (ha!) government jargon that spews out of the mouths of people with titles like Deputy Director of Strategic Public Policy Planning and Collaborative Comprehensive Master Plan Code Compliance. You know, the SPPPCCMPCC. Oh come on now, we’re sure you’ve heard of it. It’s right next door to the ABCDEFG.
Both, of course, are under the jurisdiction of the office of Legalities and Municipal Enforcement (LAME).
I’m surprised, based upon that fake Star Wars story I just told you, that one of Lucas’ evil little characters wasn’t called a Wonk.
Here’s an agenda item that was discussed at a November meeting held by the city of Clearwater:
“Deny amendments to the Clearwater Community Development Code to expand the allowance of self-storage warehouses as a flexible standard use, along with use specific standards and minimum off-street parking requirements, in the Regional Center Subdistrict of the U.S. 19 Zoning District where it is currently permitted in the Corridor Subdistrict and do not pass Ordinance No. 9161-18 on first reading.”
When City Manager Bill Horne read that out loud, not only did he not burst into laughter, he seemed proud of it! And his employees all nodded in an up-and-down direction. The City Council members nodded in just the opposite.
And to think government types wonder why no one attends their meetings.
You insomniacs out there should know that many of these meetings are online these days, no doubt causing our friends at Sominex to lose some sleep. Log into a Zoning Appeals Board meeting before bed tonight and you’ll be zoning out in no time. Welcome to the ZZZZZ zone.
Imagine two government employees getting married.
“I do?” said the bride.
“Huh?” said the groom.
“Oh, sorry,” the bride replies. “I do hereby concur with the nuptial initiative outline as presented here forth.”
Preacher: “I’d tell you to kiss the bride, but I wouldn’t kiss a mouth like that if I were you. So, instead, you may now ratify this agreement in perpetuity.”
Years later, when she says “We don’t talk anymore,” he says “Well, officially we never really did.”
Needless to say, she’d later find out he was having an affair with someone in, well, the Office of Government Affairs.
But this can change … and without a change order, mind you.
In 2019, I challenge all government-speak to cease and desist (one last nugget for you). Please, going forward, just talk like the rest of us. Please! No more techy talk mumbo jumbo, no more acronym alphabet soup.
Why can’t we just speak like government folks do in Madeira Beach, where they speak the language of love. That’s if you categorize face-licking as such. (Google “Madeira Beach city commissioner reprimanded” if needed, or YouTube the first kiss between Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters in The Jerk for an illustration).
Backing me is a movement out of England called the Plain English Campaign – fighting for crystal-clear communication since 1979. Its web address is Plainenglish.co.uk.
It cites different examples of over-the-top jargon it tumbles upon, including this gem from its country’s 2003 Licensing Act within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (sounds sillier than Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks):
“Food or drink supplied on or from any premises is ‘hot’ for the purposes of this Schedule if the food or drink, or any part of it,
(a) before it is supplied, is heated on the premises or elsewhere for the purpose of enabling it to be consumed at a temperature above the ambient air temperature and, at the time of supply, is above that temperature, or
(b) after it is supplied, may be heated on the premises for the purpose of enabling it to be consumed at a temperature above the ambient air temperature.”
Yes, after reading that, I am now wide-eyed and curled up in the embryo position, sucking my thumb.
Let’s get to the core of this epidemic. Why does this big-shot lingo even have to exist?
“The use of government jargon is sort of like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. There's really nothing to it but a big show,” said Anita Cereceda, a former mayor of Fort Myers Beach who forbade the use of stale wonk talk at her meetings. I covered her government a few years back and what a breath of fresh air it was.
“It's a political way to separate people, like we know something you don't know,” she continued. “I mean, when you tell somebody that they need to amend their CPD to be consistent with LDC chapter 326 section B so that they can go to the LPA, the average person doesn't know what to make of that.
“It's intentional. ‘We know something you don't know.’ But if they’re doing the people’s work, then they should do it in a manner the people can understand.”
Mark Ely, the senior community development director of Seminole, defends such talk because he said government action needs to stand up in court. And fancy talk is, of course, rampant in the legal world.
“We must concretize,” he said in defending himself, of course using a word I’d never heard. “Much of it is tailored to case law and it must survive a judicial challenge.”
OK. Now how about the same thing in English?
“I’m the piano player,” he said, while I’m pretty sure I heard his eyes rolling through the phone. “How the music is written isn’t up to me.”
Still, he swears he can dial it back in his personal life.
“It’s like those scenes in Looney Tunes, when the sheep dog and coyote punch out together at the end of the day,” he said of his relationship with government speak.
He’s been at his job since 1990 and is now 58 years old. Mark, you’re telling me that you’ve never accidentally used municipal lingo at home in front of your wife and kids?
“Not once,” he said.
Then he paused.
“I don’t have a wife and kids,” he said.
Ah ha! I knew it! Scared them away, didn’t you!
After sharing a laugh, I thanked him for being a good sport.
And off I went, looking forward to dumbing down the new year. I’d like to think there’s more than just one person in our world of government (Google 45th president) willing to do that.