MiSTings and More

A Concise Glossary of Copspeak

This is not a lexicon of law-enforcement terminology. I’m interested in a more insidious pheno­menon: people who have nothing to do with law enforcement, using copspeak because they sincerely believe it to be English.

The best source for this form of copspeak is courtroom TV. But not just any show. It is relatively rare on People’s Court, whose litigants have already filed small-claims cases and are therefore integrated into the social/legal/linguistic system. The vast majority speak educated adult English—or, at least, the educated adult version of some human language. Instead, look for copspeak on shows like Judge Judy, America’s Court, or other quasi-court of your choice. Litigants on these programs tend to exist outside the mainstream, in a world where the only redress for your grievances is a staged facsimile of a courtroom.

This list does not include usages that reflect simple errors or misunder­standings, such as “harass” for “annoy” or “bother”, “defame” for “insult”, or “bipolar” for “tempera­mental”. And, of course, it doesn’t include genuine law-enforcement usages like “cooperate” for “comply” or “the suspect” for “the perpetrator”.

You may be surprised at how short the list is. I was. A few basic substitutions, and you too can talk like a TV litigant.

Nouns

altercation
fight
verbal altercation
argument
male companion, female companion
the person you were with, even when you know their name. Gender is always specified.
funds, funding
money

“I didn’t have the funding” = “I couldn’t afford it.”

individual
person
place of employment
work

“He called me at my place of employment” = “He called me at work.”

(the) residence, (the) home
your own house or apartment. Never means a residential facility or nursing home.
statement
an utterance of any kind

A “statement” can be anything from a remark made in ordinary conversation to an exclamation of distress. The one thing it never means is a formal statement given in the course of an interview, such as by a reporter or the police.

vehicle
car, truck

Verbs

advise
tell

Verb of saying (transitive). Note “He advised her that the car had crashed”, not “He advised her about what action to take.”

enter
go in
exit
go out
express
say

Verb of saying. Note “He expressed that he was angry”, not “He expressed his anger.”

proceeded to X
Xed

The simple past does not occur. “Proceeded to . . .” is used for single (perfective) actions. For ongoing (imperfective) states, use the pluperfect: “She had known that I had not liked her” = “She knew that I didn’t like her.”

purchase
buy
state
say

The most common verb of saying. See notes under statement (noun).

Other Words and Phrases

intoxicated
drunk
multiple
many

(on) multiple occasions = many times, often

was unaware (that)
didn’t know (that)

Introduces indirect discourse: “I was unaware that he had not paid rent”, not “I was unaware of his payment history”.