Alan Duncan, a ‘grammar fascist’

    Minister of State for International Development Alan Duncan. Photo by: Raja Dasgupta / Department for International Development

    Ever felt annoyed when reading voluminous documents peppered with jargon? You are not alone.

    U.K. Minister of State for International Development Alan Duncan has expressed concern over the excessive use of words such as “grow economies” and “humanitarian space” among Department for International Development staff. He also slammed the use of “leverage,” “mainstream,” “access,” “catalyze,” “showcase” or “impact” as verbs.

    The “loose and meaningless use” of “going forward” is on the minister’s list as well.

    The self-proclaimed “grammar fascist” believes the use of jargons and utter disregard for grammar rules aren’t good for the agency. “If we use language the rest of the world doesn’t understand, we diminish [DfID’s] reputation,” he said in the memo published in the department’s internal website and posted by The Telegraph.

    Duncan’s concerns aren’t unfounded as a number of DfID’s press releases contain such language. A statement about U.K. state secretaries’ 2010 visit to Afghanistan said: “They will meet President Karzai, relevant Ministers and senior officials, in order to gain a better understanding of the situation in Afghanistan, of the options going forward, and of the further work we need to do.”

    Even U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell and Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for International Development Stephen O’Brien have committed similar mistakes:

    “This paper sets out the principles … that will in future guide DFID’s relationship with faith groups going forward,” Mitchell said in DfID’s “Faith Partnerships Principles” paper.

    “The British government wants to use the [International Climate Fund] to work in partnership with the private sector and to leverage private investment,” O’Brien said in his speech to The Forest Trust conference on sustainable oil palm.

    Duncan’s comments, however, “were not intended to suggest that this is a significant problem at DfID or unique to this department,” a DfID representative told the Huffington Post. And he may be right.

    In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah said: “The Food Security Index measures the crucial components of the enabling environment that impact food security, which provides a unique method to index countries that are most food-insecure.”

    U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, said in a statement in December: “Let us give meaning to International Migrants Day by taking constructive steps to leverage this global phenomenon into a force for progress.”

    Duncan’s memo was meant for people working in the department, but it won’t hurt if others in the development community would start following it — going forward.

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    About the author

    • Jenny Lei Ravelo

      Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.

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