Legalese and corporate-speak are each examples of the language of a subculture. Shared language can faciliate efficient communication saving time and effort. Language of a subculture also can create confusion when used with an outsider. Furthermore, it can serve to draw a boundary between in-group and out-group.
Each culture has its own language, its own slang, its own jargon. In his article "The Jargon Jumble: Kids Have 'Skeds,' Colleagues, 'Needs'" (from The Wall Street Journal Online), Jared Sandberg pokes fun at bringing to family life the jargon of the corporate world.
When Michael Schiller, a management consultant, wanted to talk with his 15-year-old daughter about where she was going with her friends, he told her, "You have to recognize your ARAs and measure against them."
His wife rolled her eyes, knowing that he was using HR speak to address accountability, responsibility and authority. His daughter, he says, "looked at me like I was from outer space."
Those fluent in the corporate argot use it as easy shorthand. It's also a handy way to appear to know what you're talking about when you don't. Spouses of the lingo-user, however, can only wonder what happened to the person they married, while trying to protect the kids from it. "When they come home with jargon, we have no idea what they're talking about," says Bill Casey of teenagers. "When we come home with jargon, we are compounding the problem."
Mr. Casey's wife, fluent in management-consultant patter, "skeds" meetings, "briefs" him on their 13-year-old, and reprimands their Basenji, Eddie, for licking the dinner plates. "Eddie, you're not adding value," his wife jokes.
I feel quite honored to say that I dined last Saturday evening with this famous Basenji. Of course, it was nice to see his mistress and master but Eddie's presence was regal and haunting. I was given a few fairly exclusive photos of the dog and share a couple with you here.
Sandberg also tells the story of a lawyer and his son; this lawyer used not jargon but a tactic perhaps better left in the courtroom.
A few weeks ago, John Scott found his 8-year-old walking down the hall with a glass of chocolate milk -- contraband outside of the kitchen. His son said it was for his older brother. Suspicious of the sudden magnanimity, Mr. Scott, a litigator, began to cross-examine him: "You've never taken chocolate milk out of the kitchen to give to your brother, have you?" he asked. Mr. Scott's wife gave him a look that said clearly, "Quit being a pompous legal blowhard around your children."
The use of the language of a culture or subculture can have benefits. A common vocabulary can expedite or simplify communication amongst others of the same group (unless people are assuming they know the shared definition and they do not). Shorthand can conserve time and energy.
When one is talking with those not understanding the definitions, these words and phrases can create bewilderment, amusement, or irritation. When the words are used to deliberately draw the line between those who know and those who do not, communication ceases; what appears instead is not usually of value to an ongoing relationship.
Let's end today's post with some jargon fun from the Texas State Bar's The Appellate Advocate. (Tip of the hat to The Billable Hour.) In "Legalese in the Age of IM (Instant Messaging)" Robert W. Hughes illustrates jargon from the IM world:
FWIW = for what it’s worth
LOL = laughing out loud (or lots of love)
TTYL = talk to you later
RUUP4IT = are you up for it
AFAIC = as far as I’m concerned
Then if appellate lawyers used IM . . .
Because appellate lawyers are desperate to write the short brief that still “says it all,” here are some proposed IM acronyms for the brief of tomorrow:
ASSA = assuming arguendo
WADR = with all due respect
MIPC = May it please the Court
Finally the bench . . .
Possibly the IM brief will induce tech-savvy justices to issue the “IM opinion,” one short enough to be sent direct to cell phones. Counsel will not have to read “between the lines” because the opinion will contain only one line. For example, some IM opinions or rulings could be shortened to:
Aff’d NNuH = affirmed, nothing new here
Aff’d UKY = affirmed, you know why
Aff’d EDNSU = affirmed, error did not screw you
Aff’d ULBLoGOI = affirmed, you lost below get over it
Aff’d PC NWPI = affirmed per curiam, names withheld to protect the innocent
Aff’d WVR/CYA = affirmed, issue waived, call your insurer
Rev’d WOE = reversed without explanation
Rev’d 2$$ = reversed, too much money awarded
Hughes has created many more examples of legal IMs of the future. Find them in his clever, imaginative article.
Note (added November 19, 2006, 9:40 AM Mountain): Jay Shepherd at Gruntled Employees posted "Abandoning jargon 'at a high rate of speed'." Click on over if you want to read his ideas about the disadvantages of jargon.