October 04, 2009

Canberra 1: Cant

Last week I was in our national capital for a 2-day "symposium". I've been to many thousands of seminars, lectures, tutorials, meetings and presentations; and even a couple of conferences, but I've never knowingly attended a symposium, so I was a little curious about what it would be.

Well now I know.

It's a euphemism for "sitting around a long table in a small room listening to other people talk and use PowerPoint until you lose the will to live".
There's a lot of that sort of cant in Canberra: using fancy words to describe something completely mundane. Politicians do it as easily as breathing, and it seems to have infected everyone in the city.

One day I walked for 3 blocks behind a man with a very snazzy tracksuit, plenty of hair "product" (another stupid word), and a mobile phone clamped to his ear. Without breaking stride, he maintained a steady stream of the most impressive twaddle, reminiscent of "Yes Prime Minister" and every political satire since then. But this guy had no script nor team of writers, so it is very disappointing that the only phrase I was able to memorise was
"We'll have to consolidate the neo-liberal economic platform before we rationalise our own objectivity parameters."
Of course it could have been the other way around.

An equally adept exponent of cant was our "speaker" for one afternoon session, although "droner" would fit just as well. In order to avoid one of those ghastly head jerks or involuntary snuffly grunts which are such an embarrassing giveaway of the secret snoozer, I kept track of the nonsensical jargon and euphemisms in the presentation. Fotunately these came along pretty often, so it was enough to keep me awake. Here are my favourites:
"adverse outcome assessment analysis"
"suboptimal problem resolution strategies"
"diagnostic overshadowing"
"mapping the behaviour curve to generate intervention plans"
and the truly inspired
"the success of positive behaviour support is judged by the durability, social validity and generalisability of the outcome."

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