There are two ways to talk.
One, which we shall call “cowboy talk,” involves speaking clearly. We suppose it’s called cowboy talk because most folks, whether they’re repairing a fence or doing anything else, don’t have a lot of time for extra chatter. They say what needs to be said and shut up.
Another way to talk is what the late comedian George Carlin described as “when people try to sound smart.”
“People add extra words when they want things to sound more important than they really are,” Carlin said in a routine some years ago. He mentioned television weather forecasters, who talk about “rain events” when they really mean “rain,” and news anchors who talk about “emergency situations” when they mean “emergencies.”
What brings this to mind was some extra-smart communications we recently received from a USDA spokesman, who tried to explain why the agency chronically missed its deadlines for reports on the dairy checkoff.
This communication would cause Carlin — or almost anyone who speaks English — to do back flips.
As reported by Capital Press reporter Carol Ryan Dumas, the USDA spokesman said the delayed release of the annual reports represents a multi-year effort by USDA and independent evaluators “to develop a more reflective illustration of the programs’ changing strategic direction from traditional dairy and milk promotion activities.”
“Modifications to the econometric modeling, novel simulations developed by the independent evaluation team, and securing the necessary data for these impact analyses posed significant challenges,” the spokesman emailed. “Those challenges further set in motion a series of year‑over-year delays but were essential to ensure adequate economic evaluation of the Dairy and Fluid Milk Promotion Programs.”
We will translate: “We changed the way we analyzed the checkoff and things got out of hand, causing the reports to be delayed.”
That the reports were late is one thing, but to wrap techno-babble around the explanation is another. Our suspicion is the speaker — or, more likely, the speaker’s boss — wanted to paper over the problem with a high-falutin explanation.
The problem is the checkoff collects about $400 million a year from dairy farmers and importers. They have a right to know where every penny of that goes and how it benefits the industry.
Clear communication is important. Speaking and writing clearly is something everyone needs to do, even the USDA.
It leads to accountability, and to trust.