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You know them.

They’re out there.

You either work with them, or you’ve heard them on television.

They’re bafflegabbers, people who use pretentious and vague-sounding words or phrases, when more direct speech would suffice.

The temptation to pick on the government here is almost overwhelming, isn’t it? Politicians are especially known for spewing out phrases that leave us scratching our heads, and for using words that really don’t mean anything at all.

For example, I’ll give you an excerpt from Edward Everett’s speech at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. It was a two-hour doozy that probably left people half-asleep and drooling on their dresses. If you’re feeling adventurous, the entire speech can be read here.

Edward Everett

“…And shall I, fellow citizens, who, after an interval of twenty-three centuries, a youthful pilgrim from the world unknown to ancient Greece, have wandered over that illustrious plain, ready to put off the shoes from off my feet, as one that stands on holy ground,–who have gazed with respectful emotion on the mound which still protects the dust of those who rolled back the tide of Persian invasion, and rescued the land of popular liberty, of letters, and of arts, from the ruthless foe…”

Zoinks! That’s a bafflegabber!

Keep in mind that bafflegabbing isn’t strictly limited to pompous speeches like Everett’s. In our need-it-yesterday, team-oriented culture, we’ve come up with a few humdingers of our own, phrases that mean…what, exactly?

Take it to the next level

Giving 110%

Best Practices

These are examples of corporate lingo that doesn’t pinpoint anything specific.

Really, who’s going to suggest using “worst practices” anyhow? Sometimes, though, joining the corporate culture-speak can get you into hot water:

When Melvin promised to “take it to the next level,” his coworkers were uncomfortably reminded of his plans for last year’s National Flashlight Day celebration, which had taken a bizarre turn for the worse.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and strangely enough, a politician had the answer!

In 1998, President Bill Clinton issued the “Plain Writing in Government” memorandum. This encouraged  government agencies to use understandable, easy-to-read language when communicating with the public.

Apparently, it took a while to catch on, because in 2010, President Barack Obama issued his own Plain Writing Act of 2010, requiring federal agencies to “simplify bureaucratic jargon.”

The “best practice” here? Keep it simple and straightforward!