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I can't find a definition, synonym or an alternative way, to say "shorthand label" in the following text:

The Unit describes social exclusion as a shorthand label for what can happen when individuals or areas suffer from a combination of linked problems.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

A "simple/simplified classification"? "Convenient term"? It depends what nuances you want.

Note that "shorthand term" is much more common than "shorthand label". It's my opinion that "label" is far more likely to be used disparagingly - just a "pigeonhole category", used by shallow thinkers to gloss over the real issues involved by simply labeling the process.


For anyone who's interested, Wikipedia has Prime Minister David Cameron citing this description of "social exclusion". The original report it appears in, from a social policy "think-tank" in 1998, describes social exclusion as

"a shorthand label for what can happen when individuals or areas suffer from a combination of linked problems such as unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime environments, bad health and family breakdown"

That think-tank itself was obviously not being disparaging of the terminology - they just needed to define their terms. They're in the business of analysing what's happening, making policy recommendations, reviewing progress, etc., and there will be many such reports and updates every year. Obviously they can't write all the above every time they want to talk about such things.

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Shorthand can also be used in a disparaging term too. The OP expression would strike me as being used with a mild criticism of the term being used to cover a wider range of issues. –  Schroedingers Cat Jan 22 '12 at 17:47
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@Schroedingers Cat: I'm sure there will be plenty of sentences where just the word "shorthand" (or "shorthand term") occur in a disparaging context. But I don't think these forms are inherently disparaging to any significant degree. Even "shorthand label" doesn't only occur in negative contexts - I just think to the extent that there is a meaningful distinction between term and label, that's what it involves. –  FumbleFingers Jan 23 '12 at 0:09

Would it work to just use Shorthand - it works in the sentence, but is there something you need in the term label that is not included?

Or possibly

The Unit describes social exclusion as a shorthand for labelling what can happen when individuals or areas suffer from a combination of linked problems.

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As far as I understood, "shorthand label" is a term used to name things shortly in a word - a condensed word. E.g English is a "shorthand label" to used for English population, society e.t.c.

So it is possible to use one of these terms epithet, tag, term, label depending upon the situation

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Yes, the problem is that even by fixing what you perceive to be a problem here, you've not accomplished much when it comes to clearing up the meaning of the sentence. It appears what you have in mind, (or whoever generated what you refer to as "the text"), is appositional. The fact that that's not automatically clear is a big problem. If the idea is that the term "a shorthand label" is referring back appositively to the term "social exclusion", then the sentence should start out,

"The Unit describes the term social exclusion as..."

Then everything form that point forward should be offset in quotes or, at minimum, italics. So the resulting construction would read,

The Unit describes the term social exclusion as "a shorthand label for what can happen when individuals or areas suffer from a combination of linked problems".

From there, in my opinion, it's just a matter of deciding whether the word defines is more suitable than the word describes. But really only the context of "the text" can provide a lead on that. However, given these parameters, I see no need for the term "a shorthand label" whatsoever.

Granted the flexibility I already addressed, suffice to say I'd opt for the following,

The Unit defines the term social exclusion as what can happen when individuals or areas suffer from a combination of linked problems.

[If it is not intended that the term "a shorthand label" function appositively with respect to the term "social exclusion", the whole meaning of the sentence is lost, leaving the reader to assume that it must mean something it does not.]

And finally, there's the matter of said definition. For starters, and for a number of reasons, I doubt it's a direct quote. It's too problematic to have been written the way it's presented, and thus, not exactly quoteworthy. First of all, it's not so much what can happen as it is what does and, more to the point, does without exception. So merely the word "happens" covers that ground unaided by the helping verb. And since only people, not areas, can experience social exclusion, it's much clearer and more accurate to say "individuals or groups of individuals" or, even more concisely, "individuals or groups".

So far, then, this leaves,

The Unit defines the term social exclusion as what happens when individuals or groups suffer from a combination of linked problems.

However, since an individual cannot alone experience that which is linked, what's really intended is simply "members of a group".

Thus,

The Unit defines the term social exclusion as what happens when members of a group suffer from a combination of linked problems.

Now all the reader has to do is attempt to comprehend what the term "a combination of linked problems" means or, that is, what it's intended to mean by its author. That it can mean more than one thing is the problem. And, as always, it is the writer's responsibility to choose language which leaves as little room for guesswork as possible. But there's a bigger problem than that. No matter how you tweak the term, at the end of it all it's still a perfectly lousy definition of social exclusion. That itself, of course, may be the point you're ultimately intending to convey.

For example, our nation is a group. Our nation as a whole currently wrestles with serious economic concerns. Each member of the group is affected in negative ways. It's a shared problem with a variety of contributing factors. So here's a clear example whereby members of a group suffer from a combination of linked or interrelated problems. But it's not social exclusion.

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You're getting carried away with the sociopolitical analysis of "social exclusion", when OP asked about "shorthand label". In fact, the 2000 think-tank report being referenced says "unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime environments, bad health and family breakdown" –  FumbleFingers Jan 23 '12 at 0:29
    
I appreciate the degree of carefulness you used in assessing the merits of my post –  Tom Raywood Jan 23 '12 at 16:35
    
ty. I wasn't particularly happy with the phrasing, because it suggests I was being dismissive of what you say. Which I didn't really intend - I don't think I actually disagree with any of it, but since I'd found the original context I thought we probably shouldn't be analysing OP's excerpt in isolation. Since the original authors themselves say "this is the shorthand term we're going to use", we should simply accept their definition which they then spend quite a lot of time going over in more detail in the report (and others over the years following). –  FumbleFingers Jan 23 '12 at 17:05

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