I’ve been catching up on e-mail and so forth this evening. I ran into a couple of forums (fora?) where discussions illustrated that some folk have a lot of time on their hands.
One was a lawyers’ forum. The question was posed how to pronounce “lawyer” and “voir dire.” (The latter term refers to the process of questioning potential jurors under oath to determine their suitability and open-mindedness. The current manufactured news from the Zimmerman case in Florida is about the very boring voir dire process.)
The other was an emergency services site where comments were flying about a fire chief’s "profanity laden” orders to a camera-carrying guy to clear out of his scene.
On the lawyers’ site, the fear was expressed that casual language and sloppy pronunciation may brand one a “redneck.” Which is, of course, a bad thing.
I just spent two days at a seminar for federal criminal trial lawyers. I felt honored to be there. There were many friends among the 75 really superior trial lawyers attending. My oldest brother, who died this March, had attended that seminar for some years. I heard of a lot of stories – outrageous and funny but hardly surprising – about him. It was rather poignant.
I don’t know what most folks would have thought of this group. Certainly, the dress was eclectic. It ranged from court wear to shorts/sweats and sandals. A good many folks had excellent diction, including some of the presenters and professors. And there were a number of less cultivated accents which, to the sophisticated (or snooty) listener might sound a bit redneck-ish.
None of which had the slightest correlation with anyone’s skill at their profession.
If you see something with icing on it that looks like a birthday cake, it may be a birthday cake. Or it may be a pile of shit. You have to cut the cake.
Excessive focus on the packaging often leads to error.
The Fire Chief’s situation is even simpler.
Some fellow with a camera was intruding on a bomb threat scene. The Fire Chief identified himself, and told Camera Guy to leave. Camera guy argued, telling the Chief that he needed to tape off the scene. In the discussion, the Chief (a 40 year fire service veteran) used “the F word.”
No, actually the Chief said “fuck” in several ways. Such as a noun (“I don’t give a flying fuck …”) and as an adjective (“You’re running your fucking mouth …). Camera Guy shared the video to show that his widdle feelings had been hurt.
Maybe this is just an effect of one reality encountering another.
The scene of an emergency is not a tea party at the Little Church in the Valley. It’s a dynamic place where dangerous things happen and where the people present need to understand the risks and need to have training to work effectively while minimizing those risks. Untrained outsiders are a danger to themselves and to everyone else there.
A collection of fire chiefs is unlike a church choir. When I was active in field operations in the emergency services, I encountered a lot of chief officers on scenes and in meetings. Oh, it went both ways, they had to encounter me, too.
Some level of verbal curmudgeonliness is de rigeur. In such a meeting, people just can’t get to the point until most of the officers present have used colorful language (often featuring opinions of their fellows’ questionable antecedents and doubtful progeny and usually featuring creative uses of the word “fuck”). If it’s almost like a speaker clearing her throat or a tenor singing scales before a concert.
On operations, what in polite society may be considered profanity is often a shorthand indication of levels of urgency, even if coded. On a low level operation, someone might ask, “Hey, would you please hand me a hammer?” In a more urgent situation, the operator might bark “BFH tool!” (BFH = Big Fucking Hammer)
Years ago, I was riding in some apparatus or other behind a fire engine being driven by a highly dedicated, crusty old Fire Chief. Some motorist would not yield the right-of-way. Above his siren and air horn, I could hear his voice: “Get out of my way, you son of a bitch!” That did the trick.
I understand that some sensibilities were offended by the Fire Chief’s profanity on the bomb threat scene. Perhaps the mores of society are advancing to the point that we need responsible emergency service workers who are more sensitive.
So, to those who want the Fire Chief, well, fired: The next time there’s a bomb threat, you handle it. The next fire alarm, grab a hose and an air pack and have at it. The next decapitated patient, here’s a body bag, you pick up the pieces.
We won’t mind.
As long as your language is decent.