Howard Stevens: civil engineering jargon

Howard Stevens recalls how a university vacation job introduced him to civil engineering jargon.

Of course in those days there was only one professor. He held the Chair of Civil Engineering at Manchester University, and it was J A L Matheson. And he was very good, he was a good – he was a good lecturer actually. But he tried to get amongst us a little bit, to try and provide us with the ability to communicate, which of course has been a problem with civil engineers for a very long time actually. I mean there’s no question at all that even in Brunel’s time it was easier for them to go and bang the table and shout and bawl than it was actually to produce a proper paper. The first year we’d finished, we were supposed to go and get a job just for the eight or nine weeks were off, and for the second year was the same. But after the first year Matheson asked us to write a report on what we’d been doing, and I remember it very well. I can’t remember how rude he was about mine but he was rude about everybody else’s actually, so I wasn’t alone in this, and he said that it was an absolute disgrace, actually, that we were not able to express ourselves properly, that we spoke in jargon, even though we’d only be working for eight weeks, we were now speaking in jargon and that nobody understood it. I mean I can remember some of the examples. ‘I was told to go up and pick up the drainage on the top of the tip.’ ‘What do you mean?’ he said, ‘pick up the drainage?’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I went out to pick it pick it up and measure it.’ “Well, you mean measure it, or literally pick it up?’ ‘No, measure it and see what it was.’ ‘Well, why don’t say that?’ ‘Well, because I wasn’t told that, I was told to pick it up.’ That was one. ‘And the drains went in with a three foot boning rod.’ ‘What the hell’s a boning rod?’ Well I thought, I didn’t say it, I mean I wouldn’t have said anyway, but you’re the Professor of Civil Engineering, you should know that. But of course they didn’t, did they? Knew nothing about what we were doing outside.

  • Interviewee Howard Stevens
  • Duration 00:02:07
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Thomas Lean
  • Date of interview 2/15/2013
  • Shelfmark C1379/93

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