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New app to ease UN jargon developed, from AAR to WTO

By Reuters | January 27th 2016

NEW YORK: Understanding the workings of the United Nations as SDGs are thrown around with RIMLGs can be challenging even for insiders so Howard Hudson decided to step in - with a smartphone tool to decrypt UN jargon.

Hudson, a communicators coordinator at the United Nations University (UNU), realized the acronyms adopted so widely by the 193 UN member states were a barrier to getting public support for its work and confusing even those in-the-know.

He cited as a key example the adoption last year of a new set of global goals by the United Nations to combat poverty and inequality that were called the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, to replace the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs.

When asked about the SDGs outside the UN headquarters in central Manhattan, members of the public were baffled.

"This is a recipe for inaction if we don't have people clarifying things," Hudson recalled a colleague saying about the SDGs which took three years of negotiations to hammer out.

"A lot of the papers that I have to edit get so technical that they're actually like hieroglyphics," he added.

Enter Hudson's brainchild, the "UNU Jargon Buster" glossary app for smartphones, with about 450 A-to-Z entries from AAR to WTO, aims to decipher the global organization's penchant for vernacular that some say muddies public debate.

Looking like pieces in a Scrabble game, it spells out the meanings of such seemingly haphazard initials as CHAP - or Common Humanitarian Action Plan - RIMLG - or Regional Integration and Multi-Level Governance - WEEE - or Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment and UNSSSS - the UN Security and Stabilization Support Strategy.

The project was first mooted when Hudson, an editor and communications coordinator at the UNU-MERIT in the Netherlands, noticed that social scientists from different fields often did not understand each other.

Creation of the free app, launched in November for Android and iOS devices, was "also partly for my own sanity," said Hudson, whose job involves pouring over jargon-packed papers and policy briefs.

Linguists often regard jargon as a way to boost efficient communication within a group or community and create internal ties.

But in the context of the United Nations, others view things differently - and that dates back to the early years of the organization that was established in 1945.

"It is a thing that occurs frequently at the United Nations. The most concrete things become here abstractions," wrote celebrated French author and U.N. diplomat Romain Gary in 1958.

Jargon has been in the United Nation's DNA, for better or worse, since its creation, said Jussi Hanhimäki, professor of international history at Geneva's Graduate Institute and author of "The United Nations: A Very Short Introduction."

But he said jargon reinforces a stereotype of the United Nations as elitist.

"There is concern about the disconnect with the UN as an organization and the people it's supposed to serve, who have no clue what the hell is going on in some cases," said Hanhimäki.

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