Cut through the bullshit to understand what’s being said, if anything.
Faced with bullshit writing? Use this guide to identify, cut, and translate bullshit into English. Examples are provided with exercises for you to become a professional bullshit reader.
Lesson 1: Remove adjectives, adverbs, unnecessary past tense verbs
- Identify adjectives (words which describe), adverbs (-ly words), and unnecessary past tense verbs (…-ed). In the two examples below, I have italicised these.
2. Remove these words then correct the grammar of the remaining sentence.
Example 1: “Tesco finest. Wholemeal Loaf Baked with fine wholemeal flour for a rich golden crumb and topped with oatbran.”
Bullshit-English translation: Tesco Loaf with flour (for a crumb) and oatbran.
“Serve chilled. Fentimans Botanically Brewed Ginger Beer. Traditional Botanical Ginger Beer with Fermented Herbal Extracts. Exquisitely Crafted.”
(Serve) Fentimans Ginger Beer with Herbal Extracts.
Now it’s your turn….
“fairfields farm. Lightly sea salted handcooked red emmalie potato crisps”
1. Identify adjectives, adverbs, and unnecessary past tense verbs.
2. Remove these words then correct the grammar of the remaining sentence.
What’s your translation?
Translation is always open to interpretation and not everyone will agree. My bullshit-English translation is “fairfields farm, salt potato crisps”.
One more practice to make sure you’ve really got the hang of it. This time, I’ll leave the translation up to you….
Lesson 2: Bullshit-English dictionary
Since the bullshit reader deletes adverbs and adjectives, the dictionary below consists of nouns and verbs used by bullshit writers. After the dictionary, I’ll guide you through translation of a 111-word bullshit job advert into English.
adapt /əˈdæpt/ verb to change only when forced to, for example if the big boss notices something amiss or the shit well and truly hits the fan.
agenda /əˈdʒɛndə/ noun a to-do list no one wants to take responsibility for nor address. Usually requires distributed delegation. Fuels the time-burning meeting fire.
agent /ˈeɪdʒ(ə)nt/ noun — a person, usually in the lower rankings of an organisation’s hierarchy, receiver and do-er of instructions which may not make sense. Similar: officer.
appendix /əˈpen.dɪks/ noun — a portion of document with details that may or may not support the document’s contents. Well-known nonsense hiding place for bullshit writers trying to make a document look like it makes sense.
approach /əˈprəʊtʃ/ noun — what you are doing, broad level. Contrast with: model.
assist /əˈsɪst/verb — to work on.
capacity /kəˈpasɪti/ noun — what we can do without getting too sick too often.
challenge /ˈtʃæl.ɪndʒ/ noun — shit-sandwiches presented to us in daily life, some force-fed, others self-inflicted.
committee /kəˈmɪt.i/ noun — a group consisting of too many people collectively responsible for lowering the value of time and well-being of its members. Other responsibilities include: talking about what they are or are not responsible for; keeping notes (minutes) of these discussions; setting next meeting dates; establishing sub-committees, working-groups, teams, task forces; forcing up to three members to make all the decisions and do all the work.
consultant /kənˈsʌl.tənt/ noun — someone who fills in the gaps in the responsibility workload of an often undertrained underpaid overworked team. Like agency staff but usually with higher education credentials. Unlikely to understand how the organisation paying them functions unless they used to be their full-time employee, partner, lover, or friend.
contents page /ˈkɑn·tents//peɪdʒ/ noun— a list of the topics claimed to be included within a document. Often more important than the contents and much more widely read.
cooperate /kəʊˈɒpəreɪt/ verb at least one person from one team will have the contact details for at least one person from another. One of these may attempt to reach the other, especially when seeking to blame others for delays. Similar: in partnership with
develop /dɪˈvɛləp/ verb — to work on.
enhance /dɪˈvɛləp/ verb — to work on.
executive summary /ɪɡˈzek.jə.tɪv/ /ˈsʌm.ər.i/ noun — after contents page, the most readable and widely attempted read part of documents longer than two pages.
expert /ˈek.spɜːt/ noun — (1) someone able to prove at least a minimum tenuous link to the field, preferably confirmed by google; one publicised presentation (unattended) may suffice; (2) someone who didn’t quit their job. Similar: professional, specialist
facilitator /fəˈsɪl.ɪ.teɪ.tər/ noun — (1) the lowest ranked person(s) to be trusted not to mess up the event; (2) someone who cares enough to find out what’s going on down there.
focus group /ˈfəʊ.kəs/ /ɡruːp/ noun — two people or more forced or compensated (monetarily, psychologically, or with refreshments) to sit with a facilitator to talk about topics they didn’t choose.
framework /ˈfreɪm.wɜːk/noun — broad ideas around which responsibilities and money-pies may be argued about
guideline /ˈɡaɪd.laɪn/ noun [usually plural] — a set of rules not expected to be policed.
implement /ˈɪmplɪm(ə)nt/ verb — to work on something that someone else planned and you have to follow.
key performance indicator [often shortened to KPI] /kiː/ /pəˈfɔːm(ə)ns/ /ˈɪndɪkeɪtə/ noun — things the one dishing the dollars forces you to measure unless you were in early enough to help set those yourself.
lead /liːd/ verb — to accept more responsibility than you want to and learn who does and does not do any work.
logframe /lɒɡ/ /freɪm/ noun — an illegible chart appended to documents, designed to ward off potential readers from details.
manage /ˈmanɪdʒ/ noun — oversee cat-herding, do best to meet deadlines or be able to explain why not.
meeting /ˈmiːtɪŋ/ noun — (1) collective self-harm; (2) ego-masturbation for one by many.
minutes /ˈmɪn·əts/ noun — usually unread notes recording who attended what time where to talk about what, varying in detail according to the notetaker’s ability and sensitivity to how much people want shared.
model /ˈmɒd(ə)l/ noun what you are doing, team level or lower (see: approach)
monitor /ˈmɒnɪtə/ verb — to maintain common sense awareness of the consequences of your actions by looking at them from time to time.
output /ˈaʊtpʊt/ noun —something tangible (such as minutes of an event, or report) which may not bring any benefits to anyone ever. Often unimportant except to meet KPIs or reporting needs.
plan /plan/ noun — someone’s best ideas given the information available to them before deadline.
project /ˈprɒdʒɛkt/noun — (1) a whole menu of shit-sandwiches with an extendable expiry date; (2) label for folder and file names.
project manager /ˈprɒdʒɛkt/ /ˈmanɪdʒə/ noun — coffee-fed sleep-deprived cat-herder able to explain lesser-paid cat habits to higher-paid cats who don’t know what’s going on.
protocol /ˈprəʊtəkɒl/ noun — important document someone wrote somewhere once. Will need revising when noticed.
publicity /pʌbˈlɪsɪti/noun — the minimum you have to share publicly to demonstrate that you did.
*quality /ˈkwɒlɪti/* — noun. Treat as adjective→delete.
structure /ˈstrʌktʃə/noun — the way things are set up already or will be set up when new people are hired or teams forced to work together.
report /rɪˈpɔːt/ noun — arguably the second most significant time-waster in the global economy behind meeting(s).
resilience /rɪˈzɪlɪəns/ noun — dealing with shit, esp. long term.
strategy /ˈstratɪdʒi/ noun — the plan around the planned plan which will need monitoring if it doesn’t work.
transition /trɑːnˈsɪʃ(ə)n/ noun the change — expected or otherwise — from one flavour shit-sandwich to the next.
systems thinking /ˈsɪstəms//ˈθɪŋkɪŋ/ noun — acknowledging uncertainty and sounding pretty clever about it too.
Let’s look at an example from a job advert I received today.
We are seeking a Consultant to lead the development of a Marine Ecosystem Services Valuation (MESV) to assist with implementation of the X project. X is funded by the UNDP Global Environment Facility in partnership with the Y Government. The project aims to enhance the capacity of Y to effectively manage its protected areas and sustainably manage its productive landscapes at local scales while considering food security and livelihoods.
The primary output from this consultancy will be a Marine Ecosystem Service Valuation (MESV) report. This report will provide an important strategic input to the development of marine spatial plans (MSP), designation of ocean zones, and ecologically sustainable use of marine resources.
Now you are a professional bullshit reader, you know what to do. Firstly, remove the adjectives, adverbs, and unnecessary past tense verbs: effectively, protected, sustainably, productive, local, primary, important strategic, ecologically sustainable. Already we have cut down the text by nearly 10%! Now let’s translate the bullshit using our dictionary and correct the grammar of our remaining sentences….
We are seeking someone who fills in the gaps in the responsibility workload of our undertrained underpaid overworked team to accept more responsibility than you want to and learn who does and does not do any work. You will work on X, a Marine Ecosystem Services Valuation (MESV) which has already been planned by someone else and you will have to follow. X is funded by the UNDP Global Environment Facility — who at least once tried to contact Government Y. The menu of shit-sandwiches with an extendable expiry date aims to work on what Y Government can do without getting too sick too often to oversee cat-herding, do best to meet deadlines or to be able to explain why not, about its areas and landscapes at scale while considering food security and livelihoods.
The something tangible which may not bring any benefits to anyone ever from this consultancy will be a Marine Ecosystem Service Valuation (MESV) second most significant time-waster in the global economy behind meetings. This time-waster will provide an input to the work on marine spatial plans (MSP), designation of ocean zones, and use of marine resources.
Congratulations — you are now a professional bullshit reader!
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