"Johnson" blog had an entertaining, and all too true, post several days
ago: "Airlinese." It pokes fun at the awkward butchering of the
English language on commercial airlines.
To some extent, I think that the
blog's author is too kind. Airline jargon has become pretentious,
pseudo-authoritative, and generally bewildering to the millions of passengers
whose first language is not English and who were not raised in a police station.
Here's a test: If you are a native
English speaker, but bilingual, and the airline also has announcements in your
non-English language, ignore the English announcement, but listen closely to
the translation. You will usually find that the non-English announcement is
simple and clear. In some cases, such as on some U.S. airlines, it can even
communicate an entirely different tone.
"Airlinese" caught my eye as one who
travels hundreds of thousands of miles each year on commercial airlines and
hears hundreds, if not thousands, of announcements. However, it prompted me to
think about how we lawyers sometimes misuse language.
Most professions (including
journalism) have insider language that has a social value for its
users. Lawyers, consultants, athletes and others are no different.
But anyone dealing with the public (especially when giving them bad news like a
ground stop) is well advised to put aside the jargon...
Language is one of the basic tools
of our profession. As with mastery of any tool, there is sometimes a
temptation to show off. No lawyer is immune.
However, as clients and comedians
frequently remind our profession, the temptation can sometimes take us too far.
- How many times have you resorted to technical legal
jargon - even Latin phrases - simply to impress a client with how smart
- Have you ever used unnecessarily thrown up a cloud of
legal terms in order to persuade the client that the issue is far too
complex for mere mortals to comprehend, and that the client should accept
your advice without any deep thinking about it?
- How often do you hide behind impressive language in
order to try to mitigate a client's tendency to react unfavorably to bad
news or other advice that the client does not want to hear?
Instead of appearing erudite and
analytical, you might appear pompous, condescending, or evasive - probably just
the opposite of what you intended.
Ultimately, it is often just bad
client relations. Consider the last sentence of the article:
It makes you look not professional,
but aloof and clueless about what your customers are going through.
Aloof and clueless... not a great
client service strategy, is it?
on the Walker Clark Worldview
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