What does it really mean?: Buzz Words and Jargon

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japesc08's picture
Joined: 08/17/2011
What does it really mean?: Buzz Words and Jargon

So as I sit here endlessly reading about development, the goals of development, reviewing websites, facebooks, twitters, NGO reports, I begin to realize there is a serious "lingo" that goes along with "NGO Speak." This conversation began when I discussed my research with my peers, teachers, family and friends. You quickly realize that the general population does not really know what a NGO is. Then I asked myself if I really knew what a NGO was? Honestly, NGOs are a massive list of different acronyms that somehow relate to non-government organization.

Not only that but this whole field that I am studying is surrounded by the most influential buzz word in the Global Studies field (besides globalization): Development. This word is defined based on who is defining it and how they want to use the word. 298 Does it really?

One thing I have learned over the past three years: If you don't talk the talk, no one will fund you. NGOs are increasingly adapting a corporate structure. Actually, the first time I read about the "buzz word" issue was in an article written by The Economist called 'The Jargon of Aid: Anyone Here Speak NGOish?" The article is written for the printed issue in Nairobi. Most of the articles written about jargon are discussing Kenya as a location with many NGOs who talk the talk but produce lacking results. The article states,

Top of the list are “empowerment”, “capacity-building” and “stakeholder” (not someone actually carrying a stake). “Governance”, “civil society”, “facilitators” and “disadvantaged” follow fast behind. British NGOs have a fondness for “focal groups”. Americans like anything that leads to “inclusion”, especially of the “excluded”.

These are all words that as I write papers, as we discuss missions statements, we deliberate over whether one word explains our purpose more than another, whether it would get us funded, whether it would gain us respect, etc. This honestly reflects the international organization component of any NGO and how we all are really just treating it like our business.

The most interesting aspect of the article is the comments. Honestly, I think a common lingo makes it much easier to communicate amongst the development community. It also builds create of such terms and goals. However, are these words used by NGOs to really do what they say? How do you test the success of many of these terms like "empowerment"? Do the people who you are building the capacity of understand that is one of your goals? One commenter had a great response:

"Having said that, I think the basic point is a fair one: that NGOs do speak a lot of pretty vague gobbledegook at times. I therefore propose a project to "build the capacity of development workers to conceptualise and communicate with a greater degree of clarity and reduced deployment of jargonistic terminologies, thus empowering disadvantaged community members to more effectively engage with development processes and realise their right to meaningful participation in decision making that affects their lives.

We could call it the Building User-friendly Language Systems and Habits through Intensive Training, or BULSHIT project."

He simply recommends the Bulshit project where we understand these habits and try to grow from them in order to exclude less people.

Food for Thought: What do you think? Do the buzz words help defend the cause? Do they actually exclude people? Are words like 'sustainability' and 'empowerment' worth using?