"Very courageous, Minister," was the phrase Sir Humphrey used in order to keep Hacker in line. Roughly translated, it means: "electoral suicide". I tried it once in an e-mail in response to the suggestion of a very senior politician. I had a phone call back in minutes. "Why?" was the first and only word I heard.
Anyhow, from the same stable is the phrase "very challenging". Translated, it means just one word: "impossible". Yet that is the phrase being used by Dr Jason Lowe of the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, when asked whether reaching the iconic target of a 2°C reduction in global temperature by 2020 is possible.
Michael McCarthy in The Independent does the translation. The pathways to the "C limit" – as he calls it - are simply too steep for the world to climb with its present level of ambition for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, even if this ambition is translated into a global agreement next week – something that is still far from certain.
What it means, he says, is that the radical prescriptions for climate change, the ones that come from the green pressure groups, the ones of which politicians instinctively think, "Nah, the electorate will never wear that" are the only ones that are actually going to work.
"Not being an eco-fundamentalist" - or so he says - McCarthy finds that quite hard to take on board. But, he adds, the implication is unavoidable. In the end it's a simple choice. One way will work, the other won't. It's going to take quite a time to filter through to public opinion, though. And as for the climate sceptic lobby, he concludes for good measure, the phrase "living in a parallel universe" comes more and more to mind.
Of course, there is an easy way out. If the scientists got honest and measured their global temperatures correctly - and also allowed for the cooling which some think could intensify – then the problem could be sorted in no time at all.
Failing that, the warmists are going to need some "very courageous" politicians. And that would never do.