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Learn Governmentese with Meetings on Tape!

The McHenry County Board may discuss CSS regarding TBI and SASS with DMH agencies, TLS, YSB and TAG.

No, I haven't been hitting the fermented printer's ink. I'm speaking Governmentese. And you, too, can learn it through language on tape!

Or rather, you can learn it through those new audio-streaming clips of County Board meetings.

Tuesday was the second meeting that the County Board decided to audiostream live and put on the Internet to improve transparency. One of the subjects, the unfortunate demise of Family Service and Community Mental Health Center, was laden with government acronyms and jargon – I'd expect no less when government talks about government.

I'm fluent in Governmentese – county being just one of many dialects – from my 15 years as a journalist, so I didn't think about the problem that the County Board's transparency initiative faces. Namely, how is the poor sap listening at home going to understand the acronyms being thrown around like election-year accusations?

As a fluent speaker of Militaryese from my years in the Infantry, I am not dumping on the use of abbreviations and jargon to save time by simplifying complicated concepts.

For example, if someone on post asks me for directions, and I say, "Drive past the deefac, turn left at the BOQ, check in with the e-fuzzy with the BCGs and wait until the NCOIC calls for you, but watch your POV because the MPs are DD 1408 happy," it's because it's far quicker than, "Drive past the chow hall, turn left where the unmarried officers live, and check in with the new private wearing those ugly basic training-issued amber glasses at the desk. Wait for the sergeant, but don't park illegally because the military police around here love to write tickets."

But if gave those directions to some poor civilian schlep who's just visiting post for a day, chances are blue smoke would start pouring out his ears. I'm imagining someone listening to the County Board's meeting at home looking up one acronym while they're hit with three more, and deciding to call it quits in favor of YouTube videos of kids accidentally hitting their fathers in the groin with wiffle bats.

And no, neither Rosetta Stone nor Berlitz sells Governmentese products.

Fortunately, County Board member Mary Donner understands the problem – as someone who both signs and reads lips, she is used to bridging communication gaps. (And given her involvement with veterans' causes and being the proud mother of a retired U.S. Marine, I'd bet she understands some Militaryese too – jarhead dialect, anyway).

Donner politely translated some of the acronyms into English for the listeners at home, and advised board members later in the meeting to get into the habit of explaining acronyms for the 99 percent of the public not in the know.

Board members may want to heed Donner, because to borrow from Militaryese, it would be NDG, as in 11 up and three down, if the POGs had to get up off of their fourth points of contact and buy a Dash 10 from the PX just to understand what the brass hats are saying. Otherwise, live-streaming is just a big waste of taxpayer beer vouchers.

That's just my SWAG.

Senior Writer Kevin Craver can be reached at

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