Unk Unks

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By Mary McConville

 Unk Unks is aerospace jargon for unknown unknowns. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

 In 1948 George Orwell wrote 1984 about a fictional dystopia where the language of Newspeak confused and contNewspeakaminated the minds of the populace. In 1984 Jonathon Green published “Newspeak A Dictionary of Jargon” based on language used in the early eighties. Some jargon is still around. The Government and the Military still talk about “collateral damage” a euphemism that really means civilian deaths. Computer nerds (now half the population) still speak of equipment being “user friendly”.

 The Military have come up with some fascinating words and ideas. They labelled a certain type of Soviet missile launcher as “Stalin’s Organs”. The launcher looked like a pipe organ. It also looked like a line of (male) organs. The British Military invented the word “yomping”. It means tramping over terrible terrain while carrying your weapons and a heavy pack in the expectation of battle at the end of the march. Even civilians will tell you that they have had days that felt like that.

 American politics have also supplied some great expressions. A candidate may have been “running for the exercise.” This means the candidate will stand for election without any real hope of success. Donald Trump? We hope.

 Science comes up with some interesting ideas that are expressed more straightforwardly than the words used in the more social disciplines such as business and politics. Some scientific expressions are almost poetic. There is “acoustic perfume,” which is white noise, the soothing sound of rain on the roof. There is also “arctic smoke” which is a fog caused by very cold air moving over the warmer waters.

There are three business theories that say more about the minds of the theorists than those of the general population, which are labelled Theory X, Theory Y and Theory Z.

Theory X says that people are lazy and clumsy, and need to be firmly controlled.

Theory Y says that people are naturally productive and just need good guidance from an involved manager.

Theory Z says that in the future people will be interested in more than just their job. Well, yeah, don’t wait for the future. We’ve always been like that.

This book tends to concentrate on traditionally masculine interests such as war, politics, science and sex. Curiously, most of the sexual jargon is centred on the experience of black pimps and homosexuality. It’s not clear whether the author has a particular interest in these communities or whether they just generate more slang.

This book is an interesting and occasionally quite amusing read but is really only useful for those who want to study the history of language.

To finish with, Frank Mankiewicz coined an amusing political expression while he was working for Senator George McGovern. The word is “klong” which means “a sudden rush of shit to the heart” when you realise that your mistake has just made things worse.

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