I start French in less than a month, but in the meantime I’ve been focusing on picking up another language: State Department speak.
A fellow blogger wrote a great post a while back about the plethora of acronyms used by the Department. He’s not exaggerating. In fact, I decided to keep track during a lecture in the public diplomacy class I recently finished up. The tally for one five-minute stretch? 37. Yes, that’s right: an acronym every eight seconds.
It’s not just the acronyms. I often find myself amused by State’s habit of using formal phrases when simple ones would work just fine:
- They’re not hallways; they’re corridors.
- You don’t have meetings; you have consultations.
- You don’t take vacation; you take annual leave.
- They’re not local employees; they’re locally engaged staff.
- It’s not human trafficking; it’s trafficking in persons.
Another example: this recent blog post about learning “consularese.”
Lest you think you’re starting to get the hang of State Department speak (“turn it into an acronym, and if you can’t, make it sound stuffier and unnecessarily complicated”), slow down, because it goes the other way too. Some things State makes so simple that they’re not actually simple. For instance:
- Hillary Clinton is not the Secretary of State; she’s S.
That one make sense, at least, but they’re not all so easy. For example:
- The Bureau of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs — what do you think it’s called? P? PD? PA? PDPA? Nope, none of those. It’s R.
Here’s hoping French is more intuitive.
I’d imagine most new FSOs feel a perverse pleasure in beginning to understand this strange code of a language. I certainly do. But at the same time, I hope that even when I become fluent in State Department speak I use it as little as possible. The more we talk this way internally, the more I’d imagine it slips into the work we do externally. And that can only get in the way of my job: engaging with the public to explain what America’s all about.