jargon

Mind the table

In American British journalistic prose, to “table” a bill, amendment or other measure is to offer or propose it. But in British American usage, to “table” a measure means to suspend consideration (i.e. to “shelve” it). In other words, “table” has more or less opposite meanings in the UK and America. Many an editorial ship has crashed on this particular shoal. Beware, and make sure that when you see this word, you know whether your source is British or American.

‘Peer’ = Member of House of Lords

In British journalistic usage, ‘peer’ usually means a member of the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament.

Technically, of course, ‘peer’ means any one of several ranks of titled nobility, which may or may not include membership in the House of Lords. But for the most part, the UK press uses the term as shorthand for the political office.

Citing foreign press agencies

When citing a foreign wire service, I find it best to use an English language reference. Sometimes that’s the agency’s name in translation. “Agence France-Presse” (AFP) becomes “the French Press Agency,” and “Deutsche Presse Agentur” (DPA) becomes “the German Press Agency.” Or sometimes it’s the name in the original language, with an English description tacked on: “The Xinhua state-controlled news service,” in a story where it’s already established we’re talking about China.

And note that, as in the last example, it’s important to indicate with a word or two (‘state-controlled’, ‘Christian conservative’, etc.) any possible bias a news service (or other source) might have.

‘Tory’ = Conservative

A ‘Tory’ is a member of the Conservative Party in Britain or Canada.

This is not to be confused with a politician who is simply philosophically conservative (small ‘c’). It only applies to a member of the Conservative (big ‘C’) Party.

A quick summary of ‘summary judgment’

The Okeechobee School District has asked federal courts for a summary judgment on whether a Gay-Straight Alliance should be allowed to meet on the Okeechobee High School campus.
  –Port St. Lucie News, 30 Jan 2008

So what the heck is a ‘summary judgment,’ anyway?

‘Summary judgment’ is the term for a ruling in a civil lawsuit made by a judge, without a trial to establish facts. The premise is that there are no disputed material facts in the case, and that all the issues are legal ones. Obviously, the side that makes a motion for summary judgment wants the judgment to be in their favor.

If both sides and the judge agree to summary judgment, it can be a huge time-saver in a case. These motions appear frequently in constitutional or civil rights suits.

Oh, by the way, I think the newspaper lede* above is absolutely terrible, and not just because it uses legal jargon (‘summary judgment’) without explanation. It also does what you should never do in a lede: instead of highlighting the conflict, it hides it. You would never know from this lede that the school district is adamantly, virulently opposed to having a Gay-Straight Alliance.

*(that’s broadcast jargon for ‘lead’, spelled weirdly so as not to accidentally get pronounced as ‘led’)