Friday Fun 6: Interpreting Civil Service Speak
One of the acute difficulties of British etiquette is the profound problem of meaning – there can be a huge disparity between the literal/surface meaning of words and the actual intended meaning as all visitors to these shores find to their confusion and even peril. For those wanting a general introduction to the phenomenon, you can do a lot worse than checking this excellent EU translation guide.
But the problem is compounded when you enter the realm of the establishment – of which the Civil Service is in large part the embodiment. So it comes as a relief to have the various traditions, idioms and (let’s face it) prevarications of Whitehall expos translated.
Assistance to areas of economic hardship.
Translation: Pouring money into marginal constituencies.
Decentralisation of government
Translation: Moving government offices into marginal consistencies.
Sometimes one is forced to consider the possibility that affairs are being conducted in a manner which, all things being considered and making all possible allowances, is, not to put too fine a point on it, perhaps not entirely straightforward.
Translation: You’re lying.
This is an urgent problem and we therefore propose setting up a Royal Commission.
Translation: The problem is a bloody nuisance, but we hope that the time a Royal Commission reports four years from now, everyone will have forgotten about it or we can find someone else to blame.
A phased reduction of about 100,000 people is not in the public interest.
Translation: It is in the public interest but it is not in the interest of the Civil Service.
Ministers have an enviable intellectual suppleness and moral manoeuvrability.
Translation: You can’t trust them further than you can throw them.
I think we are going to have to be very careful.
Translation: We are not going to do this.
Have you thought through all the implications?
Translation: You are not going to do this.
It is a slightly puzzling decision.
Translation: Minister, that is the silliest thing I have ever heard.
Public opinion is not yet ready for such a step.
Translation: Public opinion is ready but the Civil Service is not.
The police have suffered an acute personnel establishment shortfall.
Translation: Short staffed.
We have decided to be more flexible in our application of this principle
Translation: We are dropping this policy but we don’t want to admit it publicly.
Translation: Making a new Prime Minister see things our way.
Taken from The Yes Minister Miscellany, pp42-44