Guest Blog: Bill Grimes
You would think intelligent, sophisticated people like federal judges and lawyers arguing high profile federal cases would know basic email jargon. WRONG! Not all of them.
The lack of familiarity is right there in the transcript of the Washington, D.C. perjury trial of former baseball star Roger Clemens. Outside the presence of the jury, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton and the attorneys were discussing whether to ask witnesses questions jurors had submitted. One question referred to "email threads" between Clemens and his personal trainer. Judge Walton and Clemens’ attorney Rusty Hardin, didn’t know what “email threads” were. Seriously. Prosecutor Daniel Butler cleared it up for them, "In other words, a series of emails." Judge Walton said, “I never heard the word ‘thread’ used in that context.” Rusty Hardin added, “I haven't either.”
Surprising as it is that Walton and Hardin never heard of ‘email threads,’ it reveals a delicate position communicators often find themselves – not insulting their audience by explaining every expression while making sure they are understood. There are many people, mostly on the other side of age 50, who resist learning too much about computers, email, social media, Internet, etc., because they’re just not into it. Just like there were legions of people who insisted on sticking to the horse and buggy years after the automobile was invented. People uncomfortable with change miss out on the new vocabulary that comes with it. It’s not the communicator’s fault, but it’s the communicator’s problem if the unenlightened individual is someone the communicator must inform.
A good rule of thumb: if the word has been commonly used in another contexts, such as “thread” (as in sewing), “platform” (as in where one waits for a train), “server” (as in what a tennis player does), explain it in as few words as possible. The way prosecutor Bulter explained that a ‘thread’ is “a series of emails” is short and sweet.
BTW [which stands for “by the way”] I’m willing to bet Butler is younger than Walton and Hardin.