Misusing language is practically company policy on the tube. Staff may know what "severe delays" means, but there's no way they're telling the publicby Dan Kuper / September 24, 2006 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2006 issue of Prospect Magazine
The underground has an incredible repertoire of stock phrases. More or less the entire history of the world can be boiled down and written on one of those whiteboards you see at the entrance to tube stations. Each one of these phrases, such as “passenger action” or “severe delays,” has—or at least is supposed to have—a fairly exact meaning. But the public tends to have completely the wrong idea about what that meaning is.
“Passenger action,” for example, is supposed to mean “someone has pulled the emergency cord” but it is pressed into service to describe more or less anything we want to deny responsibility for, including a suicide, which is actually “person under a train.” Suicides are also known as “person on the track” but that is supposed to be for when there is a person on the track—before they’ve been hit by the train.
The management occasionally gets sniffy about the use of lingo, vainly trying to bring some order to what has always been an inexact science. But misusing language is practically company policy. This is the organisation that used to start staff at the grade of SA, station assistant, before promoting them to the SS, station supervisor. More recently I was reading some underground publicity literature entitled “Access on the underground—a step by step guide for disabled passengers.”
My favourite underground phrase is VIP for a blind person. It stands for visually impaired person—do you see what they did there? Blind people will think that we think they’re VIPs! The regrettable truth is that hearing that a blind person is due to arrive at your station is a cue for staff to vanish. I used to have a Saturday afternoon regular blind person with extraordinarily sweaty palms. It was like being gripped by a mop. He would take me by the elbow and I would guide him upstairs to the station entrance and, if I didn’t stop him, all the way to his house. By the time we reached the escalators, his swe…