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Can I say a word about… why magic bullets aren’t silver | Jonathan Bouquet


Oth Thursday of last week, the Time The title of the front page read: “Sunak: better education can be our magic bullet”. The report continues: “A Downing Street source said Sunak believed that if there was ‘one silver bullet in public policy’ that would improve lives, it would be investment in education and skills.” Hardened readers may remember that I deplored this solecism many moons ago. Allow me to quote the Guardian style guide: “Silver Bullet: Used to kill a werewolf and by the Lone Ranger. Yet how many times have I heard this phrase debited? More than I care to remember. The correct term is magic formula – “a quick and easy solution to a difficult problem”. For further explanation, I recommend Beyond the Magic Bulletby the late great journalist Bernard Dixon.

A colleague reports that on the Today program last week, Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the following: “We have operationalized flights to Rwanda”. He then repeated the word later in the interview. How revolting. I don’t know what his job is at the moment, but I think a quick revamp is in order.

I was delighted to receive an email from Tom O’Brien of the Open University about the origins of corporate discourse. My eye was caught by the following: “To optimize the process, we need to do a multi-factor analysis to determine which variables need to be controlled in order to maximize the streamlined flow in the fluid. This will then maximize the efficiency of work input and minimize losses in the system due to turbulence and other non-linearities. The resulting model can then be applied to upgrade the variables which we will present to you in due course. This, Mr O’Brien suggests, can be simplified to “We need to control, streamline, maximize”. Just so.

Email jonathan.bouquet@observer.co.uk

Jonathan Bouquet is an Observer columnist

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