When I first read James H. Boren’s 1972 classic, “When in Doubt, Mumble,” I thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever read. Forty years later, having read hundreds, maybe dozens, of books purporting to be (a) humorous, and (b) about law, business, government or politics, I still believe Boren’s work is the cream of the crop.
Boren, who died in 2010 at the age of 84, served the Kennedy administration as deputy director of the U.S. Economic Mission to Peru, overseeing programs in education, criminal justice and agriculture. When he left public life, he became a “reformer of bureaucracy,” forming a spoof group, the International Association of Professional Bureaucrats.
Boren was an entertaining and insightful speaker, and “When in Doubt” was the most memorable of several books he wrote. From that book’s “Glossary of Terms and Phrases”:
Acabu (pronounced: ackaboo): An academic bureaucrat. A specialized class of professional bureaucrat (probu).
Dittoanalysis: The process by which echosultants arrive at conclusions previously determined.
Fuzzistic: Planned or programmed fuzziness as distinguished from haphazard or accidental fuzziness.
Linear mumbling: The translocation of tonal patterns that reflect the bold irresolution of a speaker. Not distinguishable in word forms.
Obscurate: Bureaucratic verb form; to preserve bureaucratic obscurity. Obscuration is similar to residuation in its outward manifestation, but it differs in the bureaucratic level at which it is used. Bureaucrats at all levels may residuate, but normally only bureaucrats at lower levels obscurate.
Profundicator: A person skilled in translating simple concepts into multi-phasic patterns of semantical infusions characterized by minimal disambiguation.
Putteristic: Planned or programmed puttering as distinguished from unplanned or random puttering.
Residuate: Bureaucratic verb form for approximating a residual profile. A residual profile is the lowest of low profiles, and is widely used in governmental agencies, corporations and educational institutions during changes of administration. Residuum-related.
Twiddlism: A short radius referral. Employee A refers a memo to Employee B. Employee returns the memo to Employee A. Tiddlisms may be developed in series.
Vertical mumbling: Maximized utilization of word strings; made more effective when developed with multi-syllable words that possess tonal qualities for optimacy of projected resonance.
And, although it obviously falls earlier in the alphabetical list, here is Boren’s definition of a Bureaucrat:
A person dedicated to the optimization of the creative status quo. Professional bureaucrats employ committee processes, use clearance mechanisms and apply the principles of dynamic inaction for the purposes of effecting decision postponement and interface avoidance. Normally characterized by skill in mumbling, pondering and delegating. Originally, bureaucrat was a term applied to employees of government bureaus, but today a bureaucrat may be found in every type of human endeavor. For some people, bureaucracy is a religion.
Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at email@example.com.