Cop Speak

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OAK.CATS.OHIOU.EDU
Thu Jul 22 23:59:37 UTC 1999

At 06:22 PM 7/22/99 -0400, you wrote:
>On Thursday, July 22, 1999, Dennis R. Preston <preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU> wrote:
>>I too have noticed this increase of "persons" (where I would say "people"
>>or "folks").I don't know what to attribute it to.
>I have a theory. Undeveloped and unresearched, it is this: the mode of
speech used by law enforcement of all types in television shows, movies and
news stories is lending prominence to certain words and modes of speech. A
professor of mine shares this idea: she kept encountering "male" and
"female" as nouns in papers discussing literary works, rather than "man" or
"woman" as might be more appropriate for the topic at hand. "Persons"
rather than "people," too, can be cop talk.
>My father was a cop for 15 years, and I still remember him using the word
"cohorts" as a plural noun meaning that each individual was him- or herself
a singular cohort, rather than "cohort" in the more traditional sense, and
as opposed to pals, gang, crew, team, etc., that might have been more
appropriate when discussing criminals. He also, in moments of gravity and
importance, likes to use more roundabout speech: "There is no reason to
believe currently at this time..." A distinct characteristic of this kind
of speech is the lack of contractions, but then we all do that, I think,
when we are trying to sound official.
>I also see it in amateur fiction and news writing on the Internet:
descriptions of characters and people tend to sound like wanted posters:
Caucasian male, 32, 6 foot 2, short brown hair. Maybe that's just bad writing.
>Of course then there's another theory that I have from about ten years ago
when I used to do resumes for people that jibes with some of what's been
mentioned here. Clients often felt compelled to put everything on the
document that they might have to put on an application form (this may say
more about the types of jobs they were used to applying for, however). They
would include words they considered more formal, or more intelligent
sounding: Caucasian instead of white, words like "utilize" instead of "use"
(a peeve of mine, sorry if I've mentioned it before), and I can't think of
any else right now.
>Grant Barrett
>World New York

Another source for 'persons' might be the increased use (utilization?!) of
'person' as a neutral suffix: chairperson, etc.  And I too hate 'utilize';
recently I got it on a student paper, utilized throughout, as in "Here he
utilized a pronoun instead of a noun," and "I wanted to see how he utilized

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