What’s in a name?

What’s in a name? If we talk of ourselves it is who we are. Our name is part of us and allows us to develop an identity.

But what about names for other things? A dog is a dog. A car is a car. A mountain is a mountain.

This all seems straightforward. So what is this blog about? Essentially it is my annoyance and despair at what has become part of our society. The way we change the names of things to suit our perception.

There are hundreds of examples. I will list a few but they are just what comes to mind immediately.

PCV becomes PSV

Local police become neighbourhood policing units.

Prisoners (those arrested) become detainees.

Bin men become Refuse Collection Operatives.

Personnel departments become Human Resources.

and my real bug bear Road Traffic Accidents become Road Traffic Collisions.

Now I don’t know how many Refuse Collection Operatives you have come across but every one I have met has said they are a bin man. So why the change?

Essentially there is someone, somewhere who doesn’t like the term in current use. A decision is therefore made to change it. To desensitise it. To make it more appealing to a politically correct world. Everybody still uses the old term and still runs outside in their pyjamas to put the “refuse receptacle” out at the front of their home because the BIN MEN are at the end of the street.

Detainee is such a lovely soft word in comparison to the harsher prisoner. Does it make any difference to a person arrested for theft if they are referred to as a prisoner, a detainee or a customer? Of course it doesn’t. So why change it?

Human Resources. If resources are paper clips, cars and computers. Then the fact that we consider our staff as “resources” that are expendable is somewhat offensive surely? If staff are a businesses most expensive and valuable asset then why refer to them in such an insensitive way?

Many years ago some smart solicitor or barrister got his client off an offence. The argument was based around the dictionary definition of an accident. If such a definition was accepted then his client could not be culpable because an accident was an undesirable or unfortunate happening occurring unintentionally. The most ridiculous thing then followed. The magistrates, the DJ, the jury or the Judge swallowed it. What followed was a total knee jerk reaction across the country as every police force rapidly changed accidents to collisions. This was to try and ensure offenders were not escaping conviction for serious offences on a technicality.

Nobody actually put there hand up and said “Excuse me, but what about the second part of the definition?” “What about the universally accepted fact that two or more vehicles coming together is known as an accident?” “What about the fact that the covering legislation (Road Traffic Act 1988) describes such an incident as an accident?”

I don’t take emergency 999 calls. But I would put money on it that people ringing in will say “There has been an accident on the High Street.” I bet they don’t say collision.

How long before we call a tram station a public transportation embarkation point? How long before we call a teacher a child education facilitator? How long before we call a nurse a healthcare professional? Oh bugger we the police already do! Yet the public don’t. A nurse is a nurse! Get my point?

Some agency, police force, government body or otherwise makes a change. It is enforced across the board yet the general populace still refer to it in its original format.

It’s really interesting to see how quickly “collision” was indoctrinated into the police. Today I posted a tweet referencing an RTA. I had a plethora of responses saying they don’t exist. I meant collision and RTC surely?

In fact no I didn’t. I meant an RTA. I meant an accident. That which the public understand and use. Finally it is worthy of note that the government have made no changes to the legislation. The Road Traffic Act 1988 still describes such an incident as an accident. It hasn’t been changed. As such, as far as I’m concerned it remains an accident. Collision is not mentioned in the act at s170.

So let’s keep it simple. Let’s just call everyone or everything by it’s known and expected name.

Ladies and gentlemen. I am The Custody Sgt. Not the Detainee Management Coordinator. Long live The Custody Sgt!!


7 thoughts on “What’s in a name?”

  1. I would suggest that it can make a huge difference how you refer to 'prisoners' whilst they are in your custody. Throughout all of the private prisons I have ever been involved in or worked within it has been an absolute rule that we address prisoners by their first name or as Mr/Ms – why? Because it engenders an environment of mutual respect and tolerance – leading to fewer assaults, less violence and generally an environment that is more conducive to rehabilitation. The use of the phrase 'prisoner' has equally been shown through research to be just as potentially derogatory and inflammatory as referring to an inmate by their last name. Detainee is a far better phrase particularly in an environment, such as a police custody suite, where you are dealing with individuals who have yet to be found guilty of the crimes for which they have been arrested.

  2. Maybe the point you refer to was not clear enough. Prisoners/detainees was just obe of several examples. For info I use first names when speaking one to one with someone. If not I will use Mr etc. The use of prisoner is a term used between officers referring to the person they have arrested e.g. over the phone to a colleague “I've just picked up a burglary prisoner and am going over to interview”. Bosses used to ring and ask how many prisoners we had. They don't now ring and ask how many detainees we have. They simply drop the reference all together to “How many have you got in?”

    Does the term prisoner, detainee or customer as a collective noun change how they are dealt with in custody? No. They are all processed under the same regulations and that cannot change. It is also worth remembering that police custody is very different environment than prison. 

    The point overall being we constantly change names for no obvious reason and are told we can't say certain words. I for one tend to find when told I can't use a word that I'm inclined to use it all the more. 

  3. I'm glad I'm not the only one who is annoyed with this change. I remember when I started nursing in the late 80's, we used to have people come into A&E (or Casualty if you like, none of this ED crap) that had been involved in a TA or Traffic Accident. Then it was changed to an RTA and now it's an RTC. I've even heard it called an RTI or Road Traffic Incident. I'm fed up with all the PC rubbish, it just makes life that little bit more difficult and a hell of a lot more annoying.

  4. No matter what names are changed to eventually someone will find fault or offence and on we move to another new name. Let's just stick to what we know and makes sense to all.

  5. Its simple people make money out of Marketing and re branding and that is exactly what a name change is. Re branding to suit the purpose and gain the buy in Of me Jo Blogs the public. Its all about PR etc and some clever person saying and making others believe Accident is not acceptable collision is.

  6. I am a nurse and, years ago, I went on a training course where the lecturer kept using the word 'clients'. Eventually one of my colleagues interrupted her and said “Hairdressers and prostitutes have clients, nurses have patients!” She failed the course

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