Monday, 16 February 2009

Linguistic enclosures

Continuing what seems to have become the main theme of this blog, I came across this blog run by the Royal Navy and written by a number of its personnel - a nice idea, I thought, and "Jack Speak" seems like a pretty good name for it. The site provides a definition for the expression, which at least looks as if it came out of a dictionary (but not Chambers, the Concise OED or Bloomsbury, the selection that I have to hand) and which appears to depend on "Jack" meaning "sailor" - as in Jack Tar, so I guess that's clear enough.

So, whether or not they invented the definition:

"Informal usage in vocabulary and idiom adopted by sailors and more widely by navy personnel. Naval slang. He was talking Jack Speak."

it's a purely descriptive expression composed of two utterly non-distinctive words. But the site also tells us:

"JACK SPEAK is a UK trade mark application belonging to the Secretary of State for Defence.

What? Not only is this sloppy use of language - it's not a trade mark application, although it was evidently the subject of one - there is no way that it should ever have been. It's descriptive, and doesn't identify the Royal Navy as the origin of anything. Moreover, it proprely belongs to someone else. So why should the Navy wish to register it as a trade mark in the first place?

The site also invites us to:

"Check out JACKSPEAK: A guide to British Naval slang and usage by Rick Jolly. Available online and in most bookshops.

So I did - check it out, that is. Well, I assume I did as instructed: I have idea what "check it out" means, though I didn't realise it was English English - perhaps it's Jack Speak, or Jackspeak. Anyway, I interpreted this as an instruction to search for it on the Internet: thank goodness they didn't say "Google it". The book was published by Maritime Books in 2000. That business was established by a former RN officer, Mike Critchley, as long ago as 1979. There's no limited company of that name on the Register, and the site displays the usual ignorance of the E-Commerce regulations and the Business Names Act, but that's not relevant to my point.

In fact, the trade mark is registered (number 2488700) and has been since last May, in classes 9, 16 and 38. What hope for us if our armed forces can't even keep a web site up to date? But more than that, what hope for us if the trade marks system is used to enclose parts of the English language in this way? There was, I fear, bound to be an increase in this sort of thing when the Registry stopped refusing applications on relative grounds, but they should surely have picked up the non-distinctiveness point.

No comments:


blogger templates | Make Money Online