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Word of the Year


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Friday, 6 October 2017

Word of the Year

This is going to be hard. The organisers of the NHS Bottom 50, the awards for people who hate awards, have asked for your help in drawing up a shortlist for Word of the Year.

Always a hotly contested category, this year will be tougher than ever, as old favourites like “transformation” vie for the top spot against emergent jargon such as “emergent” and late entry “placemat”, which was brilliantly deployed last week by NHS England in a blog on IT strategy as arts and crafts workshop.

Somewhere in Chatham House, in a room filled with beards and pipe-smoke the judges are already beginning their preliminary deliberations. They will have their work cut out; and with such a big field to cover, we need to be sure that no stone is left unturned. You can help by posting your nominations or tweeting them using the hashtags listed at the end of this article.

The rules are simple. Winning words will have some or all of the following characteristics: pointless novelty, lack of a clear or precise definition, meaninglessness, vacuity and pretentiousness. They should have the ability to excite the feeble-minded and to baffle or irritate everyone else in equal measure.

The Word of the Year will have little to fear from established words, which often suffer from fewer syllables and needless clarity, completely diminishing their impact on a slide, in a speech or in the title of a report.

Sometimes, however, old words may be “refreshed” (itself a strong contender) or “integrated” (ditto) with newer ones. “Transformational change” is a perfect example of “collaborative working” between high jargon and a quite ordinary word with a similar meaning. To call it tautology or hyperbole is to miss the point.  Individually they are strong, together they are transformational.

Word of the Year contenders include words that have a dull and respectable life in the private sector, but perform edgy new roles for NHS managers and civil servants. “Assurance” and “framework” are harmless enough on their own, but deadly when they get together.

Many words need to be modified to make them safe for use in the NHS. For example, “innovation” has come to mean borrowing second-hand ideas from Alaska, Sweden or New Zealand; “improvement” means getting together to write poetry, knit beanies and make new friends; and “initiative” should not be confused with the similar term used elsewhere to mean prompt and effective action.

In the search for Word of the Year, neologisms often have the edge. “Success regime”, though not strictly new, remains powerfully ironic and more relevant than ever. Look out too for “support chassis”, a term that threatens to supplant two previous winners at a stroke: “infrastructure” and “delivery vehicle”. “Place based” also remains a firm favourite, reminding us that despite advances in digital technology, all health care has to happen somewhere.

Finally, the winning word should have suggestive potential that far exceeds its meaning. In this respect “patient centric”, “outcomes based” and “accountable” are all certain to make the final cut.

We asked the judges what they’re looking for in the Word of the Year. They said:  “Think of it as issuing a very large invoice for something of little or no value in an impressive package that may never arrive.”

Post your nominations in the comment box below or on Twitter using the hashtags #NHSBottom50 and #WOTY.

Awards editor: NHS Networks


Anonymous says:
Oct 06, 2017 09:04 AM

Brilliant! My personal favourite word is the classic word "mechanism". I always expect to see cogs and levers, but it seems to refer to something rather nebulous that requires lots of meetings, several weighty reports and an outcome I'm not aware of

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Oct 06, 2017 10:05 AM

Yes, I was equally confused when I first heard of contracting levers. I imagined they were controls that made things smaller. Perhaps they are.

david seabrooke
david seabrooke says:
Oct 10, 2017 10:56 AM

Most people who contract levers make a good recovery - get an appointment from my secretary and we'll take a look at you.

Anonymous says:
Oct 06, 2017 11:35 AM

#WOTY: An old favourite but hugely overused, any variation of the verb "to innovate". Innovative, innovation...

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Oct 06, 2017 12:10 PM

I like the idea of innovation being on the list for the seventh year running. Somehow it fits.

Anonymous says:
Oct 06, 2017 12:03 PM

Controversial, but I'm finding the word 'decision' in my office has a quite different meaning from that I expected. Decision here means 'debate' or 'put-off' or sometimes 'compromise', but rarely that clear direction and, well, decision anticipated.

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Oct 06, 2017 12:12 PM

Thanks. The judges are debating it now. Oh, wait, they've deferred this one until after lunch...

Anonymous says:
Oct 06, 2017 12:24 PM

I've heard 'decompression' used twice this year...

Dillon Sykes
Dillon Sykes says:
Oct 06, 2017 12:37 PM

Great blog as usual.
My word this year has to be 'horizontal'. We now have to have 'horizontal' thinking in any meeting of substance. If you really want to show how important you are you can always use it with the word 'lateral' to show what a class ass you are.
It now blesses most 'strategic'(another contender no doubt) thinking documents and once the whole NHS goes horizontal I'm sure it will be a happy day.

As its Friday afternoon I'm now off to lay down in a dark room in a horizontal position.

Anonymous says:
Oct 06, 2017 12:46 PM

How about hiking of District Nurse usage

Anonymous says:
Oct 06, 2017 12:46 PM

We have a board in the office for these.. Current favourites are:
Alliance contracting
Locality vehicles / Special purpose vehicles
Campus commissioning
Provider collaborative

paul gomm
paul gomm says:
Oct 06, 2017 01:18 PM

Surely, without a doubt, the most widely used and utterly useless word in the NHS is "hopefully". This conveys the impression that everything is fine and all functioning as it should, but really the person using the word "hopefully" has absolutely no idea nor concern as to whether the matter "hopefully" referred to is, has or will ever, work / happen / end up where it should or correctly. Just listen to the conversation next time you hear the word "hopefully" used and just spend a moment to wonder IF, what is being referred to, will actually ever happen !

Anonymous says:
Oct 06, 2017 01:34 PM

Rather timely and with tongue firmly in cheek I have to report a meeting I have just left has voted to support a call to reduce the use of "robust" as a descriptor or any of our processes, policies, protocols or services as following CQC visits several such items so described were judged to be rather inadequate! Heaven forbid we actually start to sort the issues because as Dillon states above we are now likewise required to consider "horizontal solutions". I feel it's that time on Friday to consider my own horizontal solution in the form of comfy sofa.

Anonymous says:
Oct 06, 2017 01:43 PM

Streamlining cuts it for me, sorry

david seabrooke
david seabrooke says:
Oct 06, 2017 01:55 PM

underpinning; thematic; channel; conversation

Beauty parade and frequent flyer should be disqualified!

PS I hear that NHS Phraseology have expressed concern about the conduct of this year's WotY contest. It was a bit garbled, but there was something about stationing armoured military vehicles on the grassed area associated with their operational ambit?

Anonymous says:
Oct 06, 2017 02:09 PM

I did love 'campus reprovisioning'. Baffled most of us. With our service review, we're about to start a new round of it - whatever it is. I watch W1A through my fingers because it sounds so much like conversations at our HQ.

david seabrooke
david seabrooke says:
Oct 06, 2017 02:14 PM

Which character are you? I'm guessing the swearey news guy.

I'm sure I've met Siobahn Sharp in real life somewhere along the line.

Anonymous says:
Oct 06, 2017 02:41 PM

Sometimes I'm Will - yeah cool...That's when I've been left behind with 'jargon bingo' and need time to figure out what's going on. We have an 'Anna Rampton'...she's not smiled since our old CE left.

david seabrooke
david seabrooke says:
Oct 06, 2017 02:16 PM

P.S. Translation - either you're getting the builders in or re-locating!

Anonymous says:
Oct 06, 2017 02:10 PM

As word of the year " annualisation " does what it says on the tin.

Anonymous says:
Oct 06, 2017 02:13 PM

Its important when joining two words together that you do lose the granularity through aggregation.

Anonymous says:
Oct 06, 2017 02:36 PM

I think we're knocking down this time...

Anonymous says:
Oct 06, 2017 02:40 PM

There's a special Euphemisms category for all the different ways we try to describe or avoid describing a service reduction or a closure.

Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Oct 06, 2017 02:54 PM

Too many great suggestions to respond to individually here, but thanks and keep them coming.

Janice Fellows
Janice Fellows says:
Oct 06, 2017 03:22 PM

We can’t forget ‘silos’ though I am unsure if this week we are recommended to work in or out of them?

Anonymous says:
Oct 06, 2017 03:54 PM

Hi Julian. Blog as always a joy.

I recently whiled away a day at the annual Health Show at Olympia attending the gloriously and ironically named HETT Conference ['Health Efficiency Through Technology'].

I am pleased to report that all the main stalwarts for Word of the Year were present [‘STP footprint’, digital transformation, transition mapping, H2K compliance (which refers to the ‘Integrity, availability, authenticity, non-repudiation, and confidentiality of information/data in transit and at rest’ -standard).

The ubiquitous digital road map also featured heavily but I have to say my new personal favourite for the sister Award of ‘Pneumonic of the Year’ is ‘The MIG’ [Medical Interoperability Gateway].

Please note – The NHS Digital MIG should not be in any way confused with the cold war jet of Top Gun fame which, as we all know, crashed and burned in the final thrilling scene :)


Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Oct 06, 2017 04:02 PM

Mike - great list. Thanks. Caused a stir among the judges. Dropped pipes, at least one upset mug of tea. Well done.

david seabrooke
david seabrooke says:
Oct 06, 2017 04:11 PM

‘Pneumonic of the Year’ - "Take My Breath Away"?

Younger readers have their own programmes.

Your my eyes, Goose.

Sygal Amitay
Sygal Amitay says:
Oct 06, 2017 03:56 PM

"Future-proof" = very likely to have no future in NHS speech.

Anonymous says:
Oct 07, 2017 09:07 AM

As a pedant, my current favourite is "digital" when used as a noun rather than an adjective. We all apparently have to be digital. According to the dictionary definitions of digital (adj) include resembling a finger, or performed with the fingers. If we can now turn digital into a noun can I suggest a version of your competition where we redefine the word of the year - I'll go for "digital" as a verb - to give the finger to technology.

Anonymous says:
Oct 08, 2017 12:55 AM

Wonderful suggestions! My nomination is National as in National Health Service. Why? It’s meaningless, lacking in definition, a novelty, etc. I think it fits all the criteria for the award! Sorry, wait a minute. It’s a bit political as a suggestion and not entirely funny as it’s largely true and reflective of the NHS. So maybe I should retract my suggestion. Oops, I pressed send.....

Anonymous says:
Oct 09, 2017 08:40 AM

I would like to submit 'on-boarding', which, from the moment I first heard it, made me want to stab myself in the ear with the nearest pencil.

david seabrooke
david seabrooke says:
Oct 09, 2017 08:48 AM

I gather that NHS Phraseology changed its name back in April to NHS Expression and I missed it. Apparently it was a close-run thing with NHS Semantics being another favoured option. I think the final decision is rather neat.

Charles Sloane
Charles Sloane says:
Oct 09, 2017 10:57 AM

I enjoyed word of the year on Friday (as I do all these blogs). For me the winner is the phrase: ‘at scale and pace’. I hear this so often but only in NHS management circles. It sounds like a comedy duo.

susan.shears says:
Oct 09, 2017 11:18 AM

DEEP DIVE - what is that all about!???? its all dabbling on the fringes of creativity but ops lets not go too far now!

Anonymous says:
Oct 09, 2017 02:23 PM

Anything combined with 'process' (noun),a word designed for the (accept no) blame culture - it's the process what done it. The process has a mind of its own and changes when it feels like it so there's no point in interfering. Also verb, to process is to put an action into a black box and await uncertain outcomes, which might be 'process (adjective) outcomes' and, again, nothing to do with me. Different from 'systems' or 'mechanisms', which are owned by somebody, processes are assumed to be unchangable other than through another process called process consultation which requires a process consultation facilitator who can speak to or for the process - a bit like a medium at a seance (see senior management meeting)

Anonymous says:
Oct 10, 2017 10:45 AM

What with all the 'deep diving' and taking a 'helicopter view' I'm not sure if I'm swimming/ sinking or flying but it's fine as I just need to 'triangulate' and all will be well

david seabrooke
david seabrooke says:
Oct 10, 2017 10:52 AM

Reading today's CQC State of Care report, almost certainly sinking.

Fiona Fleming
Fiona Fleming says:
Oct 10, 2017 12:26 PM


Anonymous says:
Oct 10, 2017 12:25 PM

Anything to do with 'envelopes'- either pushing them or financial ones...what on earth!?!

Mark Bridgeford
Mark Bridgeford says:
Oct 10, 2017 04:47 PM

'Performance Envelope'

Insight Sharing

Mitigating contingency - or - contingent mitigation

ambitious realism (as in lacking)

Anonymous says:
Oct 13, 2017 08:46 AM


Julian Patterson
Julian Patterson says:
Oct 13, 2017 12:58 PM

Lovely word and didn't appear in any of the hundreds of other entries here or on Twitter. Thanks, it arrived just too late. You'll see I've gathered a collection of some of the best and most interoperable nominations in this week's blog.

Mark Lainchbury
Mark Lainchbury says:
Oct 13, 2017 02:56 PM


Peter Marsh
Peter Marsh says:
Oct 13, 2017 03:53 PM

"Inspection" has to be near the top. Biggest cause of a*se twitching

Adrienne Elly
Adrienne Elly says:
Oct 16, 2017 02:17 AM

Our favourite word of the year is 'splintegration' as it describes life in NHS England South. The South region is splintering into a South East and a South West region while at the same time we are bringing together NHSE and NHSI. Credit to Dr David Royse for coming up with such as apt moniker.

Anonymous says:
Oct 27, 2017 01:35 PM

#WOTY ‘NHS’ and England on their own are a source of pride. Stick them together and we’ll....we all know what happens then!