Word subterfuges

One of my many long-suffering colleagues was working on a document today called a ‘staff capability policy’ and I felt quite strongly that the words ‘capability policy’ were an oxymoron – or at least to some extent contradictory. I am not sure exactly why this should be. I have an abiding and deep-seated suspicion of the word policy and really do think it capable of all kinds of subterfuge and camouflage of less than savoury ideas.

The word seems to be invoked when actions need to be justified about which the perpetrator feels uncomfortable on a human and humane level – the policy is then used to explain the apparent necessity of the action, e.g. cutting someone’s hours or letting them go. Despite its lofty origins from ‘polis’ city via citizen and prudent conduct ‘policy’ has still now landed on ‘a written statement of a contract of insurance’; and with that falls squarely within the remit of cowardice. It becomes all too clearly something to fall back on when humanity and indeed capabilities have failed!

‘Capabilities’ on the other hand is a happy confident word, suggesting cheerfully power and skills and resources. 

One clearly does not need a policy for capability; one needs it for incapacity and therein lies my sense of the contradiction lurking within the deadening power of such official euphemisms.  Staff Capability Policies are not for capability but for incapability but are, in that bureaucratic way, too cowardly to say so.


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