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Monday, July 02, 2018

Empire of Jargon

Anton Chekhov
The title of doctor, nurse, technician all disappeared, and we all became providers. All those patients in our waiting room suddenly became consumers or clients. My grandfather ran a grocery store and had a lot of customers, and my father was a lawyer and had a lot of clients. None of those customers or clients would come to see me as their doctor with their illnesses today if I were a provider. The use of the terminology of “providers” and “customers” lowers all health care staff to the lowest common denominator and demeans the concerns of my patients.
When I sit in my examining room across the desk from my patient I face a human being who has come to see me as a doctor because they’re in search of the treatment of a real illness or concern. --Sidney Goldstein, M. D.
These issues are not unique to doctors, alas; administration burgeons in many places (universities and hospitals leading the way), and administrators are prone to an only-too-understandable postmodern confusion about what is meaningful and who is doing the essential work. This interesting tendency allows them to put administrators first, to eliminate meeting spaces that once belonged to doctors, to increase demands for paperwork so that there is less time for face-to-face communication between doctor and patient, etc. As a poet and novelist married to a physician, I see many changes in how medicine is practiced but also detect parallel changes in my own realm. In mine, the canon of great literature is abolished, all writing is "product" on a "platform," the strength of the writing is no longer uppermost in the minds of publishers, and the idea of a publisher supporting a writer's ongoing work is increasingly absent. In both fields, tradition and the opportunity for plain old human warmth continue to be on the wane.


  1. Ah, yes ... "plain old human warmth." Much needed. In the midst of admin and paperwork and online forms, it's a rare bird. A good friend and I were lamenting criticism leveled against her by the boss, "you haven't developed an action plan. I want to see that action plan on my desk by tomorrow!" Oi joi.

    1. Bossiness and jargon joined--joy indeed. Powers and jargon go together.

      Hope the swallow-flitting is good where you are!

    2. It is! Thank you Marly. The swallow-flitting is right up there with the firefly-flashing. Hope your summer is pleasantly warm and surrounded by tree frog song!

    3. We have had three day of warm weather. I am happy about that. It takes Cooperstown a long time to warm up, and sometimes it skips summer entirely (as I define it, anyway.)

      Just returned from a cookout and croquet game with husband and sons at Glimmerglass State Park. Lovely!

    4. Add "s" to "day!" Typo, my dread enemy!

  2. The sins of omission and commission in our education systems are catching up to us, and inmates are running the asylums; hence, we reap what we sow. Too many tropes?

    1. A lot of familiar phrases but true...

      I always think of William Stringfellow saying that jargon is one of the hallmarks of the principalities and powers!

  3. A magazine requires an editor (who ensures there's something to read) and someone to sell space (to keep the mag viable.) It became the fashion to insert another function above these two worthies, that of publisher. What did a publisher do? A good question. Since almost all publishers were promoted from the sales side, they occupied themselves by harassing the ad manager. Theoretically they were supposed to dish out similar punishment to the editor but to do that credibly they would have needed to understand something about the magazine's contents, ie, by reading the damn thing. Publishers aren't great readers.

    Finally I discovered the publisher's true raison d'etre - to be the magazine's sacrificial goat. When times got tough it seemed the most natural thing in the world to fire the publisher. Mine demanded an official lunch attended by various serried ranks of more senior managers. Had I been anything other than a born journalist I might have found this occasion embarrassing.

    On the editorial side the only job that matters is "editor". Not executive editor, managing editor, editor emeritus, nor West Coast editor. In fact the longer the title the less the power. There's something rather apt about this; symbolic of the realisation that there's more cutting than creating in journalism.

    1. That business about the length of the title is amusing! (Reminds me of Pascal, too. Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte. I can just barely read that but you won't have any trouble!)

      The fashion. Such a trial, isn't it, dealing with the fashion?

      Publishers not reading seems kindred to the increase of administrators with business administration degrees, rather than study and experience in the essential work at hand.

  4. Pascal's apophthegm runs through all journalistic veins. "This is too long, I didn't have time to make it shorter."

    But in me it now runs less actively. Unrestricted by monthly (always), weekly (frequently), hourly (more often than you might expect) deadlines I am, I know, the lesser writer. I over-consume (WS) myself in other people's Inboxes, perhaps in reaction to the 300-word limit I impose on my posts. Less is always more and I may glance back at the above comment aware that I could have halved it. But the test of such compression is always clarity and that's what takes the time. When I began to sniff at verse a decade ago I adopted the sonnet, saying I needed its rigidity to keep me comfortable. What I really feared was verse that went on too long.

    And how much, do you reckon, could be cut from this re-comment? Not ruling out the possibility of saying nothing at all.

    1. Nothing at all would not be so entertaining!

      As someone who published a book-length poem, I suppose that I can't join you in the fear of "verse that went on too long." But maybe I should--poets shouldn't have the last word on their poems!

      It's interesting that the expression has been attributed to many and rather diverse writers, though I think it belongs to Pascal. Perhaps other writers rephrased it, or perhaps it's just one of those apophthegms-with-too-many-legs. The proverbial centipede.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.