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2010 booklet
Parliamentary jargon decoder and MP-speak translator

This page last updated: 3 May 2011

You will find that one of the skills you need to acquire in your new job is a whole new language. To help you in this process we bring you a two-part introduction:

  1. Parliamentary jargon decoder

  2. MP-speak Translator

1. Parliamentary jargon decoder

It's your first week in parliament, and already you've been asked to lay your hands on the vote bundle, talk to the table office about an early day motion tabled before prorogation, speak to someone in 'the Other Place' and tell the Sergeant at Arms' office that your Member is hoping to catch The Speaker's eye. So you would be forgiven for thinking that everyone here is speaking an entirely made-up language.

In recent years some efforts have been made to make Parliamentary language more accessible to the general public; for example the Modernisation Committee have replaced the phrase 'I spy strangers', formerly used to request that the House sit in private, with a request 'that the House sits in private'. Which actually makes sense.

However, for many there will always be a strange sense of smugness that comes from speaking an almost entirely incomprehensible language, reflecting the 'old boys club' culture that arguably still pervades Parliament. Some parliamentary language is useful, and can be genuinely interesting once you learn the history behind it, although its obscurity can pose a real barrier to engagement with Parliament. However, we say if you can't beat em', join em'. Although rambling on to a constituent about Short money or Statutory Instruments is probably unwise, trying to construct a sentence so jargon-filled that even your all-knowing MP can't understand you can be a lot of fun, especially as they're unlikely to admit that you're talking absolute incomprehensible twaddle.

ďThe DCSF bill's only going to ping-pong over the Sunset clause
- unless you use a dilatory motion, there's no guillotine!"

There are many guides to parliamentary language on the internet, and we've pulled together a few of the best:

Parliament's own A-Z Glossary is extremely useful, very factual if a little dry Ė they have failed to notice the irony of including a translation of 'Modernisation Committee', a body whose purpose is primarily to make these sorts of glossaries unnecessary...

Get hold of a copy of the latest edition of Business of the House and its Committees: a short guide.  This 118 page booklet, available from the Vote Office and the Table Office, is one of the must-have items for all Members' offices as it throws much needed light on many of the still weird and wonderful practices at Westminster. In particular, the Procedure and Practice section includes lots of helpful descriptions of terminology and practices whose names don't give a clue as to their real meaning. It is available on the intranet here:

The BBC's A-Z of Parliament  is also pretty good, and includes a handy quiz and a selection of short explanatory films.

The Guardian's glossary of parliamentary terms is fairly useful, although a little short, and looks to have been written more for a lay-audience than for those actually working in Parliament.

Although it doesn't have a glossary as such, the Parliamentary Education Service website aims to decode parliament for young people, and has some very useful resources should you have school groups visiting.

More specifically, there are also glossaries explaining terms used in the Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly and specifically in Local Government.

2. MP-speak Translator

Of course, there are some phrases that the 'official' guides will never be able to explain, and for those, take a look below at our very own Dean Trench's helpful guide to translating MP-speak.

Note from the W4MP Editor: Parliament is a serious place, and the Palace of Westminster and constituency offices are filled with hard-working, dedicated professionals engaged in the important business of running the country.  Yet even the most committed need time for rest and recuperation, space to kick back and unwind, and opportunities to take a sideways look at their workplace, employers and even their political masters.

Our man, Dean Trench, has written many wonderful pieces for W4MP over the years, guaranteed to turn your sobs of frustration into tears of laughter.  You can see more of his writing here: www.w4mp.org/html/library/altguide/default.asp.  To whet your appetite, here is his helpful guide to translating what your boss really means when s/he says......  This is the short version.

The language of Parliament is a complicated art to master: statutory instruments, delegated legislation, carry over motions, deferred votingÖand since Bellamy's cafeteria has had its makeover it takes everyone a good five minutes to work out that saucisson with creamed pomme de terre and onion jus is just their sausage and mash made to sound vaguely edible.

MPs are no easier to understand. They half explain instructions they have only thought a quarter of the way through, write with all the elegance and clarity of your average Ewok, and react in the manner of Darth Vader with constipation if somehow youíve failed to understand their coded and garbled commands.

Help is at hand, however. Below are some common phrases used by Members of Parliament to their staff with their translations, because in the Palace of Westminster things are never quite as they seem.

'Dean Trench'

They Say

They Mean

Iíve just cleared my inbox!

Your inbox is now full.

Get the Prime Minister on the phone. Now!

I have a healthy sense of my importance in the political process.

Why wasnít I told about this immediately?

I was told. I forgot. Itís still your fault.

Iíve had a BRILLIANT idea!

Run! Run like the wind!

Here, Iíve bought you a coffee.

Iíve done something stupid that youíre going to have to clear up.

Here, Iíve bought you lunch.

Man, Iíve done something REALLY stupid. I hope youíve got some waterproof trousers because youíre going to be in it up to the groin.

Iím quite flexible about the hours you work.

Iím extremely flexible if you want to stay on two or three hours at the end of the day. However, if you arrive in as much as thirty seconds later than 9am, Iíll have your guts for garters.

Send out a press release saying Iím available for comment on todayís events.

I am a media whore.

The computerís lost all my emails!

I canít tell the difference between an empty Excel spreadsheet and Microsoft Outlook

Hello, Iím your local MP.

But you can call me God.

Well, Iím not surprised she got promoted; sheís very friendly with David/Nick/Ed.

Iím as jealous as hell.

Are you volunteering to help in my re-election?

Iím volunteering you to help in my re-election. Bang goes the rest of your holiday entitlement!

Nobody told me that the letter had gone outÖI was told that you hadnít sent itÖconstituency office gave me totally the wrong information and said that youíd dropped the ball Ė I never said that about you. I think youíre great. Fancy a doughnut?

Iím sorry.

Iím sorry but youíre going to have to work late tonight.

Iím not sorry.

Weíve got a problem.

Iíve caused a problem.

Iíve drafted a press release.

Iíve just spent a highly pleasurable forty-five minutes talking about how awesome I am in the third person.
Someone must have hacked my account! I got drunk and posted some disobliging words about a Parliamentary colleague on Twitter.
There must have been a problem with my office

The problem being that I failed to inform them of the meeting so they did not know to draft an agenda and then circulate to this list of people that I have in my head to invite, nor book the room that I am currently sitting in.Ē

I moved it in the diary. And omitted to notify any of the attendees that I had done so. Nonetheless, I am sat - on my own because no one has turned up - quietly fuming because my staff havenít managed to read my mind using the Force.

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