Public Policy and Administration Vol 13 No. 1


Robert P. Watson
University of Hawaii at Hilo

Thomas D. Lynch
Louisiana State University


Language is more that a means of oral or written communications. It shapes the way we think and it is though the lens of language that problems and issues are conceptualized. It is thus useful to analyze the language of government. Moreover, the language used by public administrators might be a source of the problems facing bureaucracy and the hostility the public feels for bureaucracy. What exists in government is an institutionalized misuse of language, comprised of jargon, abstractions, acronyms, and a confusing amalgamation of syntax and doublespeak. This article examines the language of “bureaucratese” by identifying common elements of bureaucratese and the problems associated with its use.

One cannot help bu wonder that George Orwell would think of the language of government today. In official public discourse and documents, taxes are now know as ‘revenue enhancements’ or ‘user fees’ and dumps have become ‘public waste reception centers’. Bureaucrats speak to the public and write regulations using ‘grammatical garbage’ laden with acronyms, abbreviations, and technical jargon. The use of such bureaucratic ‘double speak’ appears to be on the rise and is present not only in political speeches and campaigning, but in the day-to-day language used by government employees (Lutz, 1998; Roche, 1998). So too does this misuse of language exists at all levels of government , in all functional areas of government, and in governments throughout the world (Lutz, 1989).

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