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BeeHive  >  Press Articles  >  Gibberish and gobbledegook

Gibberish and gobbledegook

I see that an animal rescue centre in Devon has managed to teach a deaf dog to understand sign language and thereby eliminated his behavioural problems. It was those problems that got him into the rescue centre in the first place as his erstwhile owners just couldn’t get through to him.

The dog’s name is Blue. Not that he’d know that, of course; being deaf and also being a dog and unable to differentiate between colours will mean that he’ll never find out. There’s a limit to what kind of concepts you can get over to your average canine by just twiddling your fingers in front of his nose. Mind you, they reckon he’s got the hang of seven sign language ‘words’, which by human standards probably wouldn’t get you very far, but in dog language terms is pretty much a full vocabulary. His favourite phrase, evidently, is ‘good boy!’, which is cleverly communicated by the common or garden thumbs-up sign.

With any luck Blue will now be able to be rehoused with a normal family and eventually rise to take his rightful place in society; so it looks like being a good ending. But I have taken a different lesson from this heartwarming tale. I mean, Blue is an old dog and these people have just taught him some new tricks. My education and experience to date has taught me that is nigh on impossible. And that’s got me thinking.

If old dogs can be taught new tricks, then perhaps people can too. You never know. That could even help with something else I was reading about the other day. Evidently the Department for Work and Pensions churns out 24 million copies of 250 different leaflets every year, but according to recent research the language used in the publications makes them “too hard to read”. According to the public accounts committee, “gobbledegook is plaguing government communications”. Perhaps they should go back to basics and see if the leaflets could be drafted using just seven different words. Blue would probably give that the thumbs-up, if he had any.

Steve Bee

First published in Pensions Management, March 2006