At an age when young men are learning to shave, I was hanging out at police stations and courthouses. No, I wasn’t in trouble with the law. I was a newspaper reporter, writing about the legal problems of others and the policemen* who brought them to justice. In fact, the only crimes I committed were against the Queen’s English, and I blame police jobspeak, which crept into my initial articles.
Jobspeak is so seductive that it spreads like measles through a profession.
Police traffic reports, for example, never mention cars or trucks. Instead there are motor vehicles. An officer on duty might observe such a motor vehicle, blue in colour, travelling southbound at a high rate of speed on First Avenue before becoming involved in a collision with another motor vehicle at the intersection of First Avenue and Main Street. Sometimes these motor vehicles were completely destroyed or sustained extensive damage.
Translation: The officer saw a blue car speeding south on First Avenue toward Main Street, where it collided with another car.
I had to translate this verbiage into readable copy, but occasionally some raw material slipped through. I can still hear my grizzled editor barking, “If it’s at First Avenue and Main Street, it’s at an intersection!”
This was my dynamic introduction to occupational argot. I would encounter jobspeak repeatedly while editing documents created by engineers, academics, lawyers and, most flagrantly, businesspeople.
Jobspeak invariably blasphemes style, but its arcane nature gives practitioners a sense of privileged membership in their work culture. It does not communicate to outsiders, which seems to be its purpose. And it assumes uniformity. The police reports could have been written by one person.
A doctor who once befuddled me with his jobspeak explained it was simply professional shorthand. But it is seldom shorter than real English. At any rate, why didn’t he save it for his colleagues and spare his illiterate patient?
*PC exempt: no female cops back then.
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