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Around the Rotunda: Funny how plain speech can ruffle feathers around the Capitol

Around the Rotunda: Funny how plain speech can ruffle feathers around the Capitol

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Woke up Friday morning, trudged into the kitchen for some coffee, read the paper and then turned on my laptop computer to check my e-mail.

I was surprised to see an electronic missive from the office of Gov. Dave Heineman.

Not really a surprise that I got an e-mail from the folks at the governor's office -- I get them all the time in this job.

But this one arrived at 6:04 a.m. from Jen Rae Hein, communications director for Heineman.

She, it seems, took umbrage with something I wrote in this space regarding the state’s budget woes.

I had penned: "With the state facing a nearly $1 billion budget gap, there are some 900 vacant state jobs with a total minimum annual salary of about $26 million."

They in the governor‘s office, it seems, do not like the phrase "budget gap," preferring instead to say "projected budget shortfall based off of the Legislature's fiscal projection."

I responded in kind to the email:

"This is all quite interesting.

"It is a gap in layman's terms. I know politicos worry about parsing, but it is a gap.

"Funny, I have heard lots of folks in the building, at the bar and around my kitchen table say 'gap.' I have heard nobody -- outside the governor's office -- say: 'Wow, how is the state going to deal with the projected budget shortfall based off of the Legislature's fiscal projection?'

"Call it chocolate pudding or dog shampoo if you want, but I see no problem with gap, which is defined as follows:

"* A conspicuous difference or imbalance; a disparity: a gap between revenue and spending.

"* A problematic situation resulting from such a disparity: the budget gap.

"Now that I think of it, perhaps 'budget abyss' would be more apt."

Hein said: “Nebraskans have a right to accurate information -- we don't need our news simplified to the point of sacrificing technical yet important facts.”

Fair enough.

So I asked Omaha Sen. Heath Mello, a member of the Appropriations Committee, for his take.

"Any way you look at it, we have a budget deficit. A gap,” Mello said. “That's why we're debating the issues that we are debating. That's why the governor put out a budget that had the cuts it had and the Legislature put out its budget that had the cuts it had.

"Regardless of whether someone calls it a gap or a projected budget gap or an analysis based on projected legislative fiscal estimates," Mello said, "any way you slice it, it's a budget deficit that both the Legislature and the governor have to deal with. It's a gap any way you look at it."

Government bureaucrats and political ministers of propaganda constantly are trying to reshape the language to obfuscate and make things seem different than they really are.

Plain speech, it seems, is often out of fashion these days.

This is why I cringed years ago when they changed the name of Lincoln's juvenile jail to the "juvenile attention center."

Police say they have "apprehended a person of interest'' instead of "arrested a suspect."

A guy who slugs his wife is not charged with wife beating, but rather "domestic violence."

I am waiting for "Death Row" to morph into "Chamber of Miscreants Awaiting Their Trip to the Great Hereafter."

I will give you that some language reform is justified. Using "Regional Center" is decidedly better and less offensive than the old "insane asylum." "Developmentally disabled" is better than the old uncaring tag "idiocy," which was widely used in the 19th century, when the British census had categories for people that included the terms "imbecile" and "feeble-minded."

Maybe I'll change my ways and try to write in the way preferred by government officials.

I'm sure that will make all the state employees who face the possibility of losing their jobs feel much better about falling victim to a "projected budget shortfall based off of the Legislature's fiscal projection."

Meanwhile, I think I will go ponder this at a retail establishment for the on-site consumption of alcoholic beverages made from the fermentation of starches derived from malted barley.

Or, I might just go down to the bar and have a beer.

Reach Kevin O'Hanlon at 402-473-2682 or


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