The language of the EU referendum

The idea behind this piece is to clarify use of language, the sort that is used in the referendum debate.

A quick literature search has identified some highly used words or phrases. There are certainly more. This is intended to be a ‘live’ document so please feel free to send in others for definition.


Harmonisation is a lovely word which has its roots in music. A harmony is defined as “the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce a pleasing effect”. The process of harmonisation in the EU is “the process of creating common standards across the internal market”.

Whether the effect is pleasing or not depends on being able to put together a choir of people who can sing. Some might argue that the EU is 28 piece punk rock band.

Single market

Families often have pet names. Single market is a pet name for a collection of states that have come together. As a single market, it tries not to operate with other markets. As with some families, they try to stick together to keep other markets out. That’s why it is called a single market rather than a single and dating market.

Families live in a house, the bigger the family, the bigger the house. A group of families might live in a big enough house to be a castle or fortress Outsiders call it a customs union or Fortress Europe. A fortress can be a very cold place to live in and may contain prisoners.


This is a word with many meanings. In a social sense, it means the intermixing of people who were previously segregated. In Psychology, it means the coordination of processes in the nervous system. A parallel can be drawn with government whose nervous system is effectively the bureaucracy, giving the same requirements to each member state.

In Mathematics, integration is a process, the opposite of differentiation. In Biology, it is the process where cells become more specialised. In commerce, product differentiation gives consumers choice, therefore value. The EU does not do differentiation.


The strict definition of a shock is an upsetting or surprising experience. In medical terms, a shock can emergency situation. It is also something can be harnessed positively such a defibrillator delivering and electric shock to restart the heart. A shock can also be delivered in eclectroconvulsive therapy (ECT), as a means to alleviate severe depression.

It can be a shock when a daughter or wife declares that she is pregnant, going to bring new life.

In EU referendum terms, a shock is none of the above, it is predictable, will not bring new life, will be a blow to the heart and will depress GDP by 10%.


This is a state where outcomes are not predictable. Some have turned this into a science, identifying possible outcomes, adding an element of predictability, speculating on a probability for each of those outcomes and in some areas, providing policies to deal with those outcomes.

That may seem complicated so let’s use an example. Your Lotto ticket is in your hand. As the Lotto is drawn, the first 3 numbers match yours. You know you have a win but until the next 3 numbers come out (4 with the bonus ball) you do not know how much you are going to win but you can plan on how to spend your winnings.

As with economic forecasts, you still do not know how much you are going to win until the numbers have been crunched to split up the pot. In the Lotto, those numbers come out within minutes. Compiling economic data takes longer.

The difference with EU uncertainty, as measured by government funded bodies, is that is uncertainty is predictable and always bad. The direction of EU reform is also uncertain.