The current crisis obviously needs a new word, and the Wall Street Journal has supplied it: ''confidency''. The Journal is, of course, the newspaper of preferency of those who gave us the sub-prime crisis, and it is only appropriate that it now give us sub-prime words. I have promised a public stoning for the first reporter here who uses it, and another for the first sub-editor to let it through denunciations of this sort excepted of course.
It's a barbaric word, which, however, is no reason why it will not thrive. Another equally barbaric non-word of the past decade or two - ''competency'' - has taken even the top divisions of the public service by storm, and I have given up fighting ''leniency''.
It is in the nature of those who coin such words that, at first coining, there is no difference from the word of whose existence, perhaps, they were unaware or uncertain. But, once those given to using the new word see the pained looks on the faces of persons of even moderate education, there is an embarrassed attempt to explain that no, this new word has a nuance not available with the former, whose existence and wider meaning, of course, they claim to still revere. Thus it is said, that when a usually tough judge shows mercy, he shows lenience. But we need, it is said, a word for a habit (allegedly very common in the ACT) of habitually showing lenience, ie, of being soft-hearted or, according to some, soft-headed. Leniency, it is said, fills the bill.
Likewise, it is claimed, a person might show competence at doing her job - say as a carpenter. But that is something slightly difference from a description of her skill set - the range of activities at which she is competent. There are, apparently, her competencies. When ministers and secretaries/permanent heads drone on about competency training - as some now do all the time, not always competently - they mean extending the breadth or the depth of skills. They would say that this is a useful and now-ingrained distinction. Perhaps, but they forget that almost everyone has long turned off and stopped listening to such babble.
The Wall Street Journal's use of confidency was not so clear that one immediately knows just what it means, but I can guess. The confidence of markets, business and consumers plays a critical role in the market. We are, or perhaps were, in crisis because confidence had slipped, alarmingly and everywhere, and government about the world were scrambling to revive the confidence of all of the players. The state of such confidence, it will be said, is confidency.
Soon, no doubt, we will have an index of it, possibly logarithmic, and soon after, a Treasury boffin will devise a fresh index, based on a calculus derivative measure. This will measure not the level of confidency but the rate of change in the level of confidency. Soon after that, no doubt, Wayne Swan will pretend to talk knowledgeably about its significancy, while Julie Bishop, also pretending to to understand calculus, will shake her head as to suggest he has misinterpreted it. The sure sign that we have moved into what John Kerin would call a GOS situation will be when a distinguished journalist, such as Glenn Milne, expresses contempt when a politician such as Tony Abbott confesses he hasn't a clue what it means.
It will, in short, be impossible to resist the word, even if one attempts to put a few roadblocks on the way to its acceptance. Like trying to ban the word in civilised newspapers for as long as possible. And then, introducing it slowly, usually by putting inverted commas around it and [sic], so that the reader understands that ordinary educated people appreciate that this is a solecism and barbarism of a pitiable kind, it was actually used by the uneducated idiot being quoted.
Treasury and management-speak people have uncommonly thick skins something demonstrated if it needs to be by a complete lack of shame or contrition about the parlous economic state they have led us into. They will still secretly use the word to each other. And, finally, even fogies like myself will give up, as we have with a host of other confidently spoken barbarisms, include fora, referenda, and Aborigine, best-practice, core, silo, value-added and facilitate.
Not that we would ever use them ourselves.
Perhaps confidency could be a useful concept in casting one's vote at the ACT election on Saturday. Who gives you confidency? Who inspires you with their competency? With all due leniency for some people's inexperiency, who will show eminency in developing the potency of Canberra? Think of it that way, and one should be in no doubt about who has the credency for better governency.
Meanwhile an anarchist like me will vote for candidates suspected of never having used such words, even in private with consenting public service managers. That will not be so much because I underrate experience, commitment and ideas, but because I have never ever, in more than 30 years of reporting politics and public administration, seen a sign that anyone who habitually uses such words is capable of inspiring me, or persuading me they have any ideas of their own. Tired, dead words and management-speak indicate tired, dead thoughts, mechanical ways of thinking and, often, attachment to dubious economic and management slogans.
A good politician, and a good manager even a good journalist can use words that can appeal to the heart as well as to the brain, and one may as well put big numbers alongside jargon users right from the start.
Observations from the Editor-at-Large of The Canberra Times Jack Waterford