words, words, words

words, words, words

There has been a leak. Well not a very important one I think in the cosmic scheme of things, not compared to a wiki-leaks-list-of-people-we-hate-and-want-to-kill-and-directions-to-find-them face book type of leak.

On Monday, quite quietly, the government had a leak. A leak of their internal advice on the language we uses to describe ourselves and our policies (I get the sneaking suspicion it was one that was meant to be leaked).

It gives advice on the language the government use to talk about things. As I said, in the cosmic scheme of things, not that important but interesting to us in the social business world.

There I go again, language, the words we use to talk about things. I talk about social business and sometimes social enterprise. I know there are technical differences (and we fit into both descriptions by the way so don’t panic) but business often sounds more mature and stable than enterprise, but depending on the audience will depend on the word I plump for.

So after that little deviation I think I have made my point. Language is totally unimportant and all important.

Sometimes it is important to precisely and technically describe the concept or context we are referring to, sometimes it is important to paint a broad brush stroke to create an emotion or an impression.

So the government’s leak talks about ‘outcomes’ not ‘targets’ about ‘volunteers, professionals, people’ not ‘stakeholders’.

Those of us who work in this cross sectoral network with business, government and the voluntary sector need to understand the rules of the language game and play that game well, but it is more important than that.

A century ago we would have given charity to ‘paupers, imbeciles and inadequates’ three decades ago we would have ‘cared for and supported down and outs and alkies’ ten years ago we would have ‘empowered service users’…

Now we just employ people.

That feels a lot better and language is important.


About Sarah Dunwell

Sarah Dunwell is executive director of Arena Partners and has twenty years experience in the corporate and business sector. After a number of senior roles in customer service and retail management, Sarah led her own successful catering business and is experienced in business turn around and SME growth. Sarah has a particular interest in the role of robust business planning and development in the not-for-profit sector. Her passion lies in seeing social businesses grow successfully and sustainably through creating mature businesses that deliver strong social agendas.
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