The worst recorded example of nonsense jargon from the emergency services ever?

What’s the worst bit of nonsense you’ve heard when doing calls in the morning? Until this week, my favourite was when North West Ambulance Service used to say: “No, it’s all medical” when asked if anything had happened over night.

West Midlands Ambulance Service, however, served up this piece of nonsense-speak when giving out details of the death of a man who had been hit by a train:

A West Midlands Ambulance Service spokesman said: “When crews arrived they found a train that had stopped near by to the spot where the man’s body was found.  He had suffered injuries incompatible with life.”

In other words, he was already dead when the paramedics arrived. Injuries incompatible with life? Who invents these phrases? And perhaps more importantly, why didn’t someone in the press office/communications department at the ambulance service not pick up on it?

The press release goes on:

“The train driver was checked out; he was not injured but was understandably shaken by the incident.  The passengers’ wellbeing was also checked but no-one required any assistance.”

Passengers’ wellbeing was also checked? Would ‘Passengers were also checked for injuries’ not have done the job just as well? But at least that piece of jargon isn’t quite as offensive as the “Injuries incompatible with life” reference.  How would you feel if you read that your relative had “injuries incompatible with life”?

The Sunday Mercury reported the quotes in full on its website – and quite right too. If that’s all the information the ambulance service put out, it shouldn’t be up to the media to change quotes.

If you look at the news page of the ambulance website, something else a little odd stands out. If a pedestrian is injured by a car, the headline is Car v Pedestrian while another update, while a car colliding with a lorry is marked up as Car v Lorry. I know there’s a bit of a backlash on against SEO at the moment, but surely there is some mistake here.

All in all, is West Midlands Ambulance Service suffering from jargon diarrhea incompatible with plain English?

(NB: Hat-tip to Ross Hawkes of The Lichfield Blog for mentioning this first on Twitter).

6 comments

  1. I could have sworn that Canadian bureaucrats and institutions had a global lock on this kind of news release nonsense but apparently not.

    While the entire news release is an incompetent mess, I will forever cherish “injuries incompatible with life” as an example of why the world needs journalists to interpret the befogged writings of the ignorant.

    (I enjoy the blog)

    Rick

  2. “Injuries incompatible with life” has a specific meaning that goes beyond just “dead”. It refers to injuries that are clearly so severe that there is no way anyone could survive them. Decapitation, total evisceration of the chest cavity, bisection, and so on all qualify as “incompatible with life”.

    When an emergency crew shows up and sees someone with a massive bullet wound lying face down in the river and clearly not breathing and the body is ice cold, they are nonetheless obliged to treat the victim unless and until he is officially declared dead. However, when they see his head lying ten feet from his body, they can simply write it up as “injuries incompatible with life” and declare the victim DOA on the scene. So in this case, “injuries incompatible with life” means that he was essentially mashed into hamburger by the train, and no attempt was even made to provide him with medical attention.

    As for your second example, merely checking “injuries” doesn’t cover as much as “wellbeing”. The latter covers people suffering from emotional shock or who have gone into a panic at the sight of a horrific accident scene, or even just being trapped without having sustained significant injuries (perhaps the door on the train car wouldn’t open following the accident). At any rate, what’s wrong with saying they checked the passengers’ wellbeing? In what way is that too obfuscated or circumlocutory? It describes succinctly and accurately what they did in response to the accident. Saying they checked for injuries would have been less precise and no clearer.

    1. Thanks Pete. I wasn’t aware of the significant difference you mention there but I’d still argue that it has little meaning to the wider public, and surely the main function of the press office is to put information out in a way which will be understood by the wider public.

  3. I don’t understand this post. Injuries incompatible with life makes perfect sense. Every quote you posted in your blog about the “jargan” was clear and explained the situation perfectly. Stop wasting your time and ours by writing shitty blogs

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