Dangerous jargon

Jargon can bring clarity for experts and irritation for laypeople, but could it sometimes be life threatening? Yes, according to the coroner heading up the inquest into the London terrorist attacks of 7 July 2005, Lady Justice Hallett.

Simple impatience with unclear terms is a more serious problem when it comes to understanding the situation at the scene of an emergency, she asserted on the last day of evidence-giving at the 7/7 hearing.

Is it really worth the time it takes to refer to a ‘conference demountable unit from a management centre’, rather than a ‘portable incident room’, for example?

And obscure job titles could confuse and disguise people’s roles, she pointed out. ‘I don’t know whether a crew manager is somebody who is responsible for supplies or is used to fighting fires. I have no idea,’ she said.

Jargon has a long history of naysayers, but Lady Justice Hallett’s criticism touched on the most fundamental practicality of appropriate language. ‘This isn’t just somebody being pedantic about the use of English … when it comes to managing incidents, people don’t understand what the other person is.’

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