Andrew Vine: Here comes the MCV - and other train Tannoy gobbledegook

THE train had just pulled out of Sheffield when the voice came over the loudspeakers. “The retail manager will be making his way through the train with the MCV,” it declared. There was a slight pause for effect, and then the voice added: “That’s the mobile catering vehicle.”


Well thank you for that piece of enlightenment, which was entirely necessary since at the mention of the MCV, the brows of all my fellow passengers, along with my own, had momentarily furrowed in perplexity.

Then, right on cue, the carriage door opened and in came the trolley with the usual array of crisps and sandwiches being pushed along by the buffet attendant. Sorry – that should, of course, be the retail manager.

I wasn’t the only one to smile at the notion of a metal trolley with a squeaky wheel, clanking and clattering with cans of pop and bottles of water being referred to in such an elevated term as a mobile catering vehicle, still less as the MCV, which implied a level of technical sophistication to rival an ICBM, or inter-continental ballistic missile.

But then it’s just one of the more ludicrous examples of the growing tendency for the everyday and straightforward being renamed in high-falutin terms in order to artificially elevate their status.

I’d bet that both the man making the announcement and the one pushing the trolley along referred to it as just that in conversation, and not the MCV. And I’d also bet that they’re under company orders to refer to it as the MCV in announcements to the passengers.

The railways are rich in this sort of nonsense. The time-honoured title of guard has been replaced by “train manager”, and the chap announcing the imminent arrival of the MCV told us shortly afterwards that our next “calling point” would be Wakefield Westgate.

Just when, and why, did Wakefield cease to have a station and have it replaced by a “calling point”?

But then this creeping infestation of jargon has its tendrils wrapped around virtually every aspect of life.

A day or two after buying a bag of cheese-and-onion crisps from the retail manager and his MCV, I took a load of rubbish from the garage to the local council tip.

Except it’s not been a tip for ages. It’s a “waste management and recycling centre”. Stopping to ask one of the workmen which skip I should empty the car boot into, he pointed out a colleague in a high-visibility jacket who was sweeping up.

“If you ask the recycling operative over there, he’ll tell you,” he said.

And it’s only in the last few weeks, whilst sorting out car insurance, that an automated phone queuing system informed me that I would shortly be put through to a “customer support facilitator”, which is what a call centre worker is apparently called on Planet Jargon.

Hospitals don’t have patients any more, but “service users”, and shops have dispensed with assistants in favour of “retail advisors”. Public buildings aren’t kept spick and span by cleaners, but “sanitation operatives” and a friend who bumped his car into a bollard had the dent repaired not by a panel beater but a “vehicle restoration engineer”.

The son of another friend returned home deflated after applying for a job as a “mass production engineer” only to find that it involved packaging toiletries on a line in a factory.

Quite where all these operatives, facilitators, managers and engineers have come from is a mystery.

Maybe it’s about making people feel better about their jobs by giving them a fancy title, or perhaps it’s about the people in charge wanting to sell an image of organisations staffed from top to bottom by the highly-qualified.

But the daft titles do nothing to either improve service or aid everyday communication. Instead, they hinder it by creating a thicket of jargon that has to be hacked through to get to clear, simple meaning.

Jargon feeds on itself and multiplies. Start calling somebody a facilitator instead of a clerk or assistant and they’ll start spouting jargon every time they open their mouths or have to write anything.

Nor do elevated titles benefit the people suddenly transformed into facilitators or operatives. Their wages don’t increase and they aren’t any less tired at the end of the working week.

A bag of crisps on a train doesn’t suddenly become a more sophisticated snack for being sold from an MCV, and the task of the chap struggling to push it fully-laden up the aisle isn’t made any easier since he started being called a manager.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong – and certainly not belittling – with plain old-fashioned job titles like cleaners, binmen or panel beaters that tell the public exactly what people do.

It’s time to dispense with facilitators and operatives and return to simple and clear titles. Or, in other words, to call a spade a spade again, and not an earth-moving implement.