I received a letter recently from a Government Department, advising me of the steps to take to re-assign some information from my previous address to my new one.

Good gracious – it looks like Obfuscation is catching! Politicians and Bureaucrats are the masters, and the husband also claims that manufacturers of self-assembled furniture from foreign climes are also up there with them.

Good old obfuscation – the art of saying everything when actually saying nothing! Or, as the Urban Dictionary puts it:

To totally obscure with non-germane information in a verbose manner, with the intent to provide a non-answer, and provide total befuddlement.

My letter was a perfect example of obfuscation at work – a relatively simple task turned into a monumental exercise in interpretation.

First I sat down and quickly read through it, I was positive and alert and had my coffee; therefore I assumed that I would understand the procedure and the problem would soon be fixed. Then I re-read the letter – twice. Then I called for back-up.

Finally – after about an hour I thought I understood what it was I had to do, and what information and documentation I was required to supply.

As an aside – have you ever tried to find obscure pieces of information, like proof of registration completed ten years ago, just three weeks after a removal. I must admit that there are still boxes waiting to be unpacked in the garage.

Anyway – armed with my new understanding I delivered myself and my supporting information to the place I thought I should be at – only to find how wrong I was!

I won’t follow the saga any further, I am sure that each one of you has a tale to tell of departmental obfuscation – and I merely highlight mine to give an example of what I detest in petty Bureaucrats

I have always stated that in my opinion, those who have a responsibility to inform the public of decisions, to give instructions or to give advice, have a ‘duty of care’. It is their duty to ensure that they communicate what they have to say clearly, concisely and without confusion.

But do they? Of course not!

This is not a new problem, Charles Dickens in Little Dorrit wrote about the Victorian version of obfuscation – The Circumlocution Office which is a place of endless confusion. Forms need to be filled in to request permission to fill in more forms. Sounds familiar doesn’t it – but this was in 1856!

I can assure you that things were not much better when I had my very, very short career in the civil service in UK – in 1954 Sir Ernest Gowers produced his book “The Complete Plain Words” in protest against what he called “excessive verbiage” in documents created by British Government Departments. It was still around when I signed up!

And as Australia prides itself in outperforming their ancient rivals the British, even in this they have surpassed and exceeded them.

So I doubt that my little dummy spit will change things. But I have to relieve my frustration with the stupidity of some of these documents one way or another.

So if any of you reading this diatribe, actually have any influence in any government department (although one may ask ‘Does anyone actually have any influence with them?’) – then please remind them of this:

The public depend on you for simple, clear instruction on how to do things. They are not impressed with your department’s knowledge of obscure terminology – and we do not know what the Department knows, and therefore need to have it spelled out to us in easy to understand basic words.

I assure you that if we actually received a letter which was simple, easy to understand with basic instruction that covered the whole procedure; your job would not be in jeopardy! We would love you for it, and fight to keep you gainfully employed for the rest of your life.

I, personally, would man the barricades; placard in hand announcing the rarity of your erudition and demanding security of tenure!

Oh for heaven’s sake obfuscation is contagious!

Rant over – but just to give an excellent example of obfuscation at work I turn to that master of government satire, George Orwell : he wrote:

“Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must be taken into account.”

Now you might be able to work out the meaning – but for a perfectly beautiful translation, turn to the Bible, Ecclesiastes Chapter 9, verse 11 – particularly in the King James’s version.

However, this race is indeed to be won by the swift (Hint) – so I must rapidly deploy to my place of employment or else – in other words I am late for work.

Michele @ Trischel

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