A health magazine has this week called on its readers to submit “world-class” questions. HM Revenue and Customs wants to prove it has a world-class data security environment after the bad publicity over its apparently losing two CDs with the unencrypted details of 25 million people on them. Ministers refer to the NHS as world-class; and they want the National Programme for IT to be world-class. Gordon Brown has backed a “world-class” medical research centre in St Pancreas.
The number 10 website says Gordon Brown wants a “world-class” standard of education. In January 2008 the UK was said to be delivering “world-class e-Government”- which could mean it surpasses the quality of online public services in Papua New Guinea. Or perhaps not.
So how measurable is world-class?
Do Eskimos have world-class igloos, Canadians world-class mountains, the French world-class strikes and the Chinese world-class methods of crowd control in Tibet? Perhaps Robert Mugabe regarded his electoral system as world-class until recently.
The term is meaningless, or misleading. One could envisage a ferry company, a new airline or a rail company using the euphemism “world-class” to describe the standards of travel commensurate with the lowest fares – cattle-class in all but name. A taxi driver could drop you somewhere unexpected in return for a world-class fare.
I’ll put some egregious examples of the phrase, as used in the IT industry, on this blog. This is a tolerable use of the phrase. And this. But the general rule is: steer clear of platitudes, jargon and clichés like the plague.