Bad language is everywhere. Confusing jargon and strange phrases have come to be expected in board rooms and council offices across the country. A few years ago the Local Government Association had to ban 200 words and phrases to stop themselves from having ‘coterminous stakeholder engagement’ rather than just talking to people. 

It’s not just the council that struggle to find the right words. Last year the Plain English Campaign slated Apple for their nonsense after Jonathan Ive claimed the new iWatch’s “simple leather classic buckle references traditional watch vocabulary”. 

This might seem funny but there actually is a problem here. The more jargon we use, the fewer people can understand us.

At StudioLR we’ve been doing a lot of work in hospitals over the last couple of years and the language used has often bothered us. We’ve seen Outpatients or Day Cases commonly referred to as Ambulatory Care – a term that was completely meaningless to me (except perhaps a mistaken connection to ambulances). And we’re not being over-sensitive – an NHS wayfinding audit found that 30% of people didn’t understand words as common as physiotherapy. Some of the words we don’t understand and some of them are just too similar…

Radiotherapy or Radiology
Paediatrics or Podiatry
Physiology or Physiotherapy
Orthopaedics or Orthodontics
Orthodontics or GUM clinic?!

Obviously health professionals use the long words (and understand them) but do we really need to see them written on signs when we’re already stressed out? They become even less relevant in children’s hospitals. Why can’t we be signposted to “Broken Bones” or “Sore Tummies”? Being in hospital is never easy so we shouldn’t make it even more difficult by communicating in another language.


Dave King