Friday, November 13, 2009

624 Jargon-naught

624 Jargon-naught

We newsies have a jargon all our own, and like all jargon it's sometimes downright silly. But sometimes not.

Everyone's calling the guy who shot up Ft. Hood the "suspect." Legally, of course, he was, until charged. Now he'd rightly be called the accused. Suspect is a legalism because we're not, any of us, supposed to pronounce him guilty before a jury does, which it probably will. But everyone knows "suspect" is a ridiculous term in a case like this. There's no doubt about what he did in front of a gazillion witnesses. And no one suspects anyone else. Okay. Go with the justice system this time and use the legalism.

This is not the right word when they tell of someone who robs a 7-11. If we don't know his name, we STILL call him the suspect. He's not. He's the ROBBER. If they catch the guy and identify him, THEN he's the suspect. Think about it. How many times have you heard the phrase "police are looking for the suspect." That's untrue on two levels. First, if they don't know who he is, then he's not the suspect -- yet. And second, in an effort to make the story seem as immediate as possible, we say "police are looking for..."

Chances are they aren't, at least in a direct sense. More likely, they're filling out paperwork, drinking bad coffee and -- to mix jargons -- eating double chocolate glazed donuts. At some point, they may luck out or skill out and find the robber, whom we all will then dutifully and rightly call the suspect.

Jargon serves a few purposes. It's shorthand. It can speed communication within a closed system -- like a newsroom or an operating room. But it's also a lingo designed to cut the non-believers out of the church service. And every trade has it and uses it.

Doctors, dentists, lawyers, financial advisers, transportation workers, electrical workers, telephone installers. (Do you know what a "goat" is? It's that telephone like thing that installers carry and use to test lines. Why is it a "goat?" The answer is lost in Bell System lore.)

Jargon keeps us civilians from knowing the inner secrets of, say, mail delivery or cement mixing. Keeps the users on a higher perch. And, oh, how we love to be on a higher perch.


--Capitalism at its finest. A school in North Carolina wanted to raise money by selling higher grades to students, dollar a point, $20 minimum and maximum. They were stopped before they were started by people who didn't want kids to learn real life lessons -- as in how the world actually works.

--Here's an honest guy. He's a flooring man. And on the back window of his truck, there's this phrase: "We Lay Anything."

--That election for Nassau County Executive is starting to look more like the Minnesota senate race every day. The Democrat started out with a slight lead over the Republican and now their positions have reversed. Years ago they extended the term of office from three years to four and this year they might really need that extra time.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

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