Monday, March 26, 2007


Readers of my post on euro/euros may state otherwise but I confidently maintain that I am not a pedant. With that in mind there is just one further use of language that really grates on me. Since that fateful budget day a few years ago, decentralisation, or the plan to move a number of government departments to various locations around the country, has become a frequent talking point and another ball and chain around the governments neck. The only problem (other than the deeply flawed nature of the plan and lacklustre response which has had plenty of coverage) is that we are all talking about decentralisation, when in fact what has been mooted is a deconcentration plan.

Decentralisation is properly defined as ‘when a relatively large number of decisions are taken lower down the organisation in particular operating units’. So had Charlie McCreevy actually announced a decentralisation plan, the government would be in the process of transferring a part of state power to the power of local authorities. This is not happening. It would truly have been a change in policy of note if the government had decided to decentralise power to local government. The struggle for increased powers at local authority level reaches right back to the foundations of the state. Lets skip quickly over that potential for vision on their part.

The fact is that decision making will remain with the same central Government department and whatever rearrangement of staff moves to the new buildings. Nothing more than a physical change is happening, a transfer of functions, which is properly termed deconcentration. Of course it would have made much more sense if the government had instead sought to overhaul enterprise and employment policy so that there are incentives for industry and job hunters to set up in locations other than Dublin, but instead they gave their time over to an inaccurately named and inevitably badly received housekeeping job, the only likely outcome of which will probably be badly co-ordinated government. So there is plenty to criticise but at least in our conversations, posting and ranting lets call it by its proper name, deconcentration.


Eamonn said...


I look forward to these future editions of CK's "Seriously, I'm not a pedant, but..." series.

- The 100 Year War
- Guinea Pigs
- The Caspian Sea
- Color blindness
- Centipedes & Millipedes
- Sea Lions
- Daylight savings

CK said...

Language is very important in providing information to the public, it needs to be clear, concise and understandable.I feel a government campaign or policy should use correct terminology.

Much of your selection, Tuathal, has history and a story to the reason why they have earned their various titles. Indeed looking into how such names came about could be worthy of a post.

I felt it was worthy of a post to note that the government is using inaccurate language in a policy decision which will have an impact on the running of government services and could be misleading.

Eamonn said...

I totally agree that language is important. I just want you to admit you're pedantic. You're living in denial and thats never healthy. Its like your saying "I'm not a neat freak, but take of your shoes off when you come into my house and always use a coaster"

As for language in this instance, I believe your making a mountain out of a grain of salt. Mis-use of language is only important when it is likely to cause confusion. When the government starts calling tax hikes 'Refund Adjustments' i'll be the first to call them on it.

However, this is patently not the case here. Decentralisation is not an everyday term and I dare say that on hearing the term, Johnny Average does not think to himself that the Government is going to be putting more power in the hands of local government.

The government are using a misnomer, sure, but the important thing is that the public associate the correct concept with it. Johnny Average knows what is being referred to when someone raises the decentralisation issue.

Its like the word 'Asteroid'. It actually means 'Star-like' even though asteroids are nothing like stars. But everybody knows what I mean when i say asteroid so it doesn't matter that its a misnomer.

CK said...

Why let the government off for one misuse of language and then call then on another?

Significant state funds are being put into the plan, why can't we expect the government to at least get off the starting blocks correctly and give the term its proper name?

Two posts on the use of language does not make me pedantic. I by no means correct improper use of language during the course of my day and I'm sure I'm guilty of it also.

Dossing Times is the place where I come to throw it all out there, however obscure or random it may be.

And there will be no future editions*

*99% guarantee

Eamonn said...

Read my comment. You're splitting hairs. They can call it whatever they want provided the public understand the concept behind the name. Calling it decentralisation does not confuse anybody. No harm, no foul.

Agreed that two posts on the use of language doesn't 'make' you pedantic. However getting your panties in a twist over it in the first place does.