Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What They Really Mean Is . . . .

Have you ever listened to bureaucrats in conversation, or heard them speaking publicly, and felt confused because you didn’t really understand what they were saying, or because their actions seemed to belie their words? Don’t worry. It’s not because you’re not smart or well-educated, it’s because you’re not conversant with their language – Bureaucratize. That’s right, there is such a language, and it’s spoken daily by millions of bureaucrats, using English or other languages as a medium.

Having been a part of the Land of Bureaucracy for half a century, I developed a modicum of fluency in this arcane language. That is, I learned to understand it. I just never developed the same degree of fluency in speaking, in part because of my grandmother. You see, she always taught me to say what I mean and avoid obfuscation. Obfuscation is not her word, she used a word that means male bovine excretion, but my grandma was a salty old bird who never minced words.

At any rate, to help those of you who are floundering trying to make sense of the outpourings of the denizens of the Land of Bureaucracy, I have prepared a short list of some common words and phrases that will hopefully help you make sense of it. The list is in two categories; designations of people and commonly heard phrases. If you have your own favorites, don’t hesitate to include them in comments to this post.

             What They Say                                                     What They Really Mean

Descriptions of People
Hands-on Manager                                                     A micro-manager who is forever in your

Mission-focused Person                                              A slave driver without an ounce of

People Person                                                             A pushover

Meticulous Planner                                                     A hopeless procrastinator

Aggressive Go-getter                                                  A real bastard who’d sell his mother
                                                                                   for a promotion

Easy going Person                                                       A lazy bum

Absolutely Loyal Person                                             A yes-man

Organization Man                                                       A rat fink

He has a wealth of experience                                     He's about to retire

Commonly Heard Phrases

I’ll get back to you                                                      Don’t hold your breath

Have you considered all alternatives?                           I hate this proposal

This is very innovative                                                 This scares the hell out of me

Let’s study this some more                                          This is disapproved

This won’t take long                                                    I hope you have a week free to do this

You’re indispensable                                                   Your vacation has been cancelled

With all due respect                                                     You suck

I hate to impose                                                           Drop whatever you’re doing, I need
                                                                                   you to do this for me 

I need this by close of business                                    I’ll get to it next week

I need this first thing tomorrow                                    I’ll get to it next month

This is the way we've always done it                           This is the way we've always done it, so
                                                                                  stop recommending changes

We’ve never done it this way before                           Your idea sucks, and it’s disapproved

There are many more phrases in Bureaucratize that seemed designed to hinder communication, or hide meaning. I’m sure if you put your mind to it, you can think of a few. Hopefully, though, this short guide will lessen the anxiety and confusion the next time you venture into the Land of Bureaucracy.