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Creeping Terminology
by I. M. Owen

THE OTHER DAY I bought a tube of silicone sealant to cover some cracks in the bath room tiles. One of Nature`s unhandymen, I read the directions with great care for fear of committing a fatal blunder. I par ticularly wanted to know when the stuff could be expected to be dry so that it would be safe to use the shower. The word dry didn`t appear; the one reference to time was Curing takes place in 24 hours. Could this dark saying be the answer to my question? At moments like this the advantages of living in a bilingual culture come home to one. I looked across at the French directions; sure enough, the corre sponding sentence was It seche en 24 heures. What blessed simplicity. "It dries in 24 hours." "Curing takes place," indeed. What fiend impels writers in English to use in-group jargon even when they are supposed to be making things clear to the laity? Any occupational group has its own specialized terms, which are handy and readily understood within the group. It`s when they escape into the outer world that trouble begins. For instance, those who don`t work as I do in the world of print might be confused if I said that in Joanna Pocock`s admirable new design for Books in Canada the columns were unjustified. It would seem that I was expressing a large reservation about the design. In fact I`d merely be saying that the lines are not so spaced as to be all the same length; another term for this is ragged right, or rag right for short. The world of economics and business constantly spills its terminology into popular discourse. Bottom line, for instance. The bottom line of a profit-and-loss statement is of course the line that shows the amount of the firm`s net profit or loss for the year. Used property, it`s neat and expressive: The company concentrates on the bottom line at the expense of its responsibility to the environment. But the phrase the bottom line is that ... is not neat or expressive; it`s messy and meaningless. Just after writing that, I picked up a copy of the Toronto Star lying on the table, and looked at a front-page article on the Toronto bid for the 1996 Summer Olympics, knowing I`d find an example somewhere in it. My confidence was justified: The bottom line is that he believes the Games are a win-win proposition. Lukin Robinson, an economic consultant who writes impeccable prose in spite of his profession, endures a good deal of pain from the stuff he has to read in the course of his work. When its terminology breaks out into other fields, however, he is forced to protest. He phoned me to report that he had seen in a music magazine the phrase consumers of music. Now, consume means "destroy:` especially by burning, or "waste, squander" Since the 18th century, there has been a special meaning in economics for the agent noun consumer, defined thus, with great precision, in the OED: "Pol. Econ. One who uses up an article produced, thereby exhausting its exchangeable value: opposed to producer" In common parlance these days, the meaning of the word has been extended to include purchasers of anything, so that as well as being consumers of food or fuel or typewriter paper, all of which we do buy with the intention of using them up, we are said to be consumers of houses, for instance, or even of government bonds, though neither commodity loses its exchangeable value as a result of our purchase. In line with this, financial institutions have taken to calling their various instruments products: different kinds of bank account, bank loan, insurance policy -- even the instruments whereby they borrow from us, such as RRSPs and GICs. And they call us consumers of these products, though it`s certainly not our intention when we buy them that they should lose their exchangeable value. The extension of this usage to the arts brings out its absurdity in stark relief "Behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed." The arts are the burning bush. After you`ve heard the music, seen the painting, read the poem, they are all still there. They are not consumed. A favourite bit of business jargon just now, which journalists are beginning to feed into their readers, minds, is the verb to source, as in The company is now sourcing its raw materials in the United States. In case you`re wondering, this just means that it`s buying them there. Then why not say so` The next step is that we`ll be asking each other Where do you source -your groceries? Where did you source that tie?

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