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October 15, 2019

I have always thought that unacceptable was rather a prissy, pissy, weak little word. I imagine it being said in a bleating, high-pitched, querulous but ineffectual voice, probably by somebody with a lisp. And yet for some reason it has become increasingly popular. Anyway, Transport for London have started putting up some warning posters on the Underground saying: Violence against our staff is…

What do you think? Despicable? Contemptible? Repugnant? Morally abhorrent? It’s got to be something pretty strong, hasn’t it?

But no. Violence against TfL staff is unacceptable, apparently. The only effect of using this prissy, pissy, weak little word must be to make people think that violence isn’t quite as bad as they’d thought.

From → Uncategorized

  1. Simon Carter permalink

    A few years ago in Chicago I heard a policeman over some sort of loudspeaker say to a driver, “You! In the blue Buick. You’re blocking two lanes and THAT AIN’T ON”. It sounded quite unequivocal at the time.

  2. John Dunn permalink

    On the Moscow Metro there was (and perhaps still is) in every carriage a notice (in Russian) entitled ‘Rules for the use of the Moscow Metro’. As is the case with such notices it contained a list of items that were explicitly prohibited, but in the midst of this list there was one sentence that simply said:
    Drunkenness on the Moscow Metro is unacceptable.
    Evidently the authorities had worked out that trying to impose an outright ban on drunkenness was a lost cause.

  3. Mark Brafield permalink

    In my work as a judge, I am often trying to find ways to express displeasure without sounding overbearing. ‘Unhelpful’ and ‘disappointing’ can be remarkably powerful in this regard, particularly if said with a disapproving look over the glasses (metaphorical in my case).

  4. Craig permalink

    I’m guessing it’s legal language to to allow the authorities to remove an individual acting in a particular way.

    Despicable, Contemptible, Repugnant, Morally abhorrent, are all better words for the actual act of violence against staff, but none of these state that the act will not be tolerated.

    In this day and age I think the use of the word “unacceptable” is used to cover your arse when kicking someone out. I have a horrible vision of someone claiming a few grand from TFL because the sign said the act of violence against staff was despicable and they didn’t know they would be expelled for it.

    I’m just thinking aloud tbh, probably wrong.

  5. Craig permalink

    Thinking about this again Brandon.

    The sign you quoted probably went on to say more, making your better suggestions valid. I probably jumped the gun a bit.

  6. Hi Craig. Yes, the sign did go on to say that TfL would ‘press for the strongest possible penalties against offenders’, so they were covered. However, I’m sure you are right that the motive for using ‘unacceptable’ was legalistic.

  7. Mark Brafield permalink

    Hmmm, sorry to butt in here but with my lawyer’s hat on, I am not sure that ‘unacceptable’ is there to provide a necessary trigger for legal action (or ‘condition precedent’ as lawyers like to call it).

    If I assaulted a Transport for London employee, the crime lies in the assault. It would not be a defence for me to say I was not told in advance that the assault was unacceptable. That does not follow legally, and morally it suggests that some people might think that the action was acceptable unless told otherwise.

    Instead, therefore, I think that both the use of the word ‘unacceptable’ and the warning that legal action will follow are just that – warnings or deterrents; be under no illusions, if you do assault the staff, we will not hesitate to pursue our legal rights.

    When I was training junior lawyers in the dark arts of litigation, I always suggested that when drafting legal correspondence, less was, quite often, more. The law of diminishing returns sets in quickly. Violence against staff is, indeed, despicable, contemptible and all those other things, but when those words are put in a letter or on a poster, it can quickly sound shrill and hysterical. Measured, quiet detachment from a height is often more powerful.

  8. OK. I see the point. Thanks very much for the expert legal view, Mark!

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