There’s a classic scene in the 1963 movie, “The Great Escape”, where, disguised as a civilian waiting for a train, the escaping British Officer, Bartlett, (played by Richard Attenborough), is wished “Good Luck” – in English – by the Gestapo. Of course, he instinctively replies “Thank you…”, thus giving himself away. His automatic response was to be himself, rather than the person he appeared to be.

A possible outcome of being in the same job culture for 30+ years is that ‘who you actually are’ becomes confused with ‘who you are supposed to be’ – in that culture.

One of the things that identifies a “culture” (in the work environment and anthropologically speaking) is a common language. Police jargon in this regard is nothing unique, but we tend to be fond of acronyms, and shorthand, and these things can become the automatic “…Thank you…” that gave Bartlett away.

By way of example, try this simple test; how many of the following acronyms are ‘Police’ and how many are not?: SOSUS, SUDSO, SUDSA, ARPA, TLA, TSA, NST, ARV, HGV, MLGV, MSV, SPV.

Got an answer?

Well, I don’t REALLY care; I’m actually making a point. Apart from two or three actual Police ones, I made most of them up and the rest are either gibberish, or pinched from a TV show in the 60’s (extra points if you’re old enough to remember which one). The point is that, if you’re not privy to the meaning and context, any form of acronym is unintelligible.

By way of further example, in the same year that the ‘real’ Great Escape happened (1944), Louie Jordan sang “The GI Jive”:

“…If you’re a PVT, your duty
Is to salute the LIEUT
But if you brush the LIEUT
The MP makes you KP on the QT….

To anybody familiar with military jargon, the sense of the lyric is simple and funny; to anybody else, it’s gibberish.

This is the legacy – like Bartlett’s manners – that the Police ‘culture’ has left you: a professional shorthand language that aids common understanding but excludes the uninitiated (often intentionally!). For sure, this language can backfire – a colleague once referred to a female complainant as “S.I.M.”, believing her to be out of earshot, when, to his dismay,  from the balcony above us came the indignant screech “I am NOT Strange In Manner!” – but for the most part, language is part of the cultural “glue”, and like glue, it sticks…

I recently read a CV (yes, I know) where there were several such acronyms. I had to ask another officer what they meant and he didn’t know either (CID I ‘got’, BTW!).

Google actually threw up several meanings for one acronym, but I don’t think the latter years of the candidate’s Police career were actually anything to do with Pokémon, so, none the wiser, I decided that it was probably a local acronym unique to that particular Force.

Like Bartlett, you may find yourself in civilian clothes, on the “railway platform”, with a wealth of cultural artefacts just cluttering up your brain. Under stress (especially in a job interview) you may find yourself ‘leaking’ a little: “Oh yes, I was SIO in an SCS investigation, assisted by the NAT and the local CID, but reporting back to the FCO, because of the ILO connections between the VC and the DP: but that was back in the day, when TLA really MEANT “three letter acronym”…”.

Just remember that the correct way to use acronyms is to write them out in full first, then, if you intend to use them latterly, place them in brackets afterwards.

When out on the “railway platform”, waiting for that next job to come along, don’t think you can let your guard down and slip into the comforting culture you came from – half the people you address will have no idea what you’re talking about, and the rest might even be a little offended by your assumptions about what they know (or worse, they may think you’re trying to ‘blind them with science’).

Learn to lose the jargon: see it as a mental straitjacket, restricting your thought processes and keeping “you” down. Try instead to find different ways to express yourself. Relax, be yourself, not some pompous ass or self-conscious bundle of angst hiding behind your previous career: sounding knowledgeable does not always equate to being knowledgeable; people tend to see through jargon, especially if they don’t know what it means. Instead, find a way to get the real “you” across to the panel…. you may be pleasantly surprised…..

Carl Mason