“Lockdown” means confined, not safe, secure or protected

As baby boomers with more than a half-century of living under our belts, we’ve seen changes for better and for worse. BoomerCafé publisher and co-founder David Henderson believes our use of language falls into the latter category.

Too many harsh words with negative and misleading connotations from law enforcement, prison management, and emergency services are becoming commonplace in the too-often careless lexicon of American language. These are words that are neither clear nor accurate.

David Henderson

David Henderson

Some uses of language are just meaningless and confusing, such as the common use of, “Hey, ya know what I mean …?” Actually, no, we don’t know what you mean until you explain what you are trying to say. Yet, “Hey, ya know what …” has become an overused phrase by everyone from the President and pundits to people being interviewed on TV news programs who use the phrase seemingly to buy time as they think of something to say that does actually mean something!

That takes me to the widespread misuse of the word, “Lockdown.”

Established dictionaries define the word as “The confinement of prisoners to their cells for all or most of the day as a temporary security measure.”

Lockdown is law enforcement slang, used in the environment of prisons and jails, to impose severe and quick restraints on the actions or movements of prisoners. How many times have we seen the stereotypical prison guard in movies or TV shows bark out, “Lock ‘em down,” sometimes in a bullying tone?

Prison-BarsThe word is used widely by law enforcement … and hence, by a news media that freely and unthinkingly parrots jargon … to describe keeping children safe during a threat, real or perceived. Lockdown does not mean protected, safe and secure. It means confined!

As a parent and grandparent, I find it offensive to use the word “lockdown,” when we’re talking about protecting children in their schools and classrooms. What sort of impression do such words make on children, let alone the public-at-large?

The police and prison guards can say anything they want, but how about something less condemning, less harsh? How about words that are clearer when referring to children or office workers temporarily confined to their school or their workplace for safety and protection? What about simply saying, “The school is safe and secure … the children are safe.” It starts with a news media that pays closer attention to words, and puts more value on clarity than jargon.

The words we use as adults make lasting impressions on children. We have long known that when a parent calls a child “stupid,” there’s a risk of real and lasting damage to a child’s sense of self-worth. Why, then, impose the brutal words of prison incarceration on the children and the public when clearer language is more effective?

Lockdown is a term that equates those in lockdown to veritable criminals being further imprisoned, not citizens being protected by law enforcement officials. “Lockdown” means confined, not safe, secure, or protected. It’s okay to say, the children… the residents… the citizens, are safe, secure, and protected.

In an emergency — such as the recent terror attack in Boston — the broad use of “lockdown” by authorities and the mirroring media was merely jargon that told us nothing. I would hope for words more professional, accurate, and clear, from law enforcement or whoever else is in charge.

1 Comment

  1. I agree that we must in general watch our language to better convey what we wish to communicate. The lexicon of media, and hence the country, fuels a general sense of societal ‘unease’ (dis-ease). Is the commonality of violence that gives media a platform for such lexicon what we should be more concerned about? I get the feedback loop though – fear-based words fuel fear.

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