Column by Jim Zachary

Jim Zachary 

Unlike much of the rest of the world, most of us in the U.S. are only fluent in one language. 

While most journalists may not be able to speak, write or understand Spanish, German, French or Russian, we do — after a fashion — have to learn certain other languages. 

Interpreting those languages can be quite the challenge. 

Let's call them government-speak, education-speak and cop-speak, which all seem to be intended to hide meanings, deflect attention or confuse an audience. 

What do you call it when there is a raw sewage spill? 

Well, government likes to call it an "outflow." 

Who says that? 

Tax hikes have been called “a slight upward adjustment in the millage.” 

You can’t make this stuff up. 

It seems government doesn't like the words tax and taxes, so instead our leaders talk about “funding streams.”

When government slashes spending, ostensibly on public projects, it calls in an “adjustment.”

When government lays people off it is called “right sizing” or “restructuring.”

Large purchases are simply “procurements,” which sounds far more palatable than spending your money.

Minority populations are called a “demographic.” 

Unemployment is called “worklessness.”

A personal favorite: One Georgia city when voting to install speed bumps downtown that some residents were very opposed to, opted to call them “traffic calming devices.” Yes, that really happened.

That's not all, in police reports, instead of reading that a suspect was pulled over, we read that authorities “initiated a traffic stop.”

Instead of a chase, police say they “did give pursuit.”

When describing the getaway car we are told it was “red in color.” We are not quite sure exactly what else it could be red in but we know that it is red in color as opposed to being red in shape, or red in sound or red in smell, or even red with embarrassment.

Instead of someone being hurt, we are told the “subject did sustain injuries.”

Academia has a language all of its own as well. Who knows exactly what “value-added,” “academic rigor,” “restorative processes,” “formative assessments,” “ESL,” “NCLB” and “RTTP,” mean? 

Journalism would be easier if people would simply say what they mean and mean what they say.

But then again, journalists also have certain archaic terms that no one understands and no one knows exactly when, where and why they started. For example: 

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CNHI Deputy National Editor Jim Zachary is the editor of the Valdosta (Ga.) Daily Times. He is also the president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. Zachary can be reached at jzachary@cnhi.com 

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