How to Talk UFOs and Farming

For those of you who don’t track sasquatch sightings in your spare time, my county is home to a bigfoot named Knobby. His last sighting was about ten years ago when he was caught snooping through a cabin window. The owner of the cabin called 911 to ask if he could shoot “the beast,” but decided against it on advice from the dispatcher. Instead, he resorted to telling the sasquatch to “Git! Git away from here!” The sasquatch turned and fled, but the man noticed the beast had a “beautiful head of hair.” (This really happened: youtube the video, “CNN: See Bigfoot? Call 911”). 

A local gas station used to sell Knobby T-shirts at the local gas and grocery, but the shirts have been discontinued. These days, bigfoot hunters are few and far between. Instead, they’re all out searching the heavens for UAPs–if you didn’t know, Unidentified Flying Objects are now called Unidentified Aerial Phenomena by the government. (Apparently, the Navy released a video of some flying triangles, a.k.a. UAPs, that has the paranormal community salivating and really polishing up their tinfoil hats.)

But the transformation of UFOs to UAPs is what I’m really concerned about in this post. The transformation is a classic case of the deterioration of the English language by jargon, and I know all too well about the harmful effects of jargon. I work at a government agriculture office. 

Sound and Agribusiness Lingo

Agriculture is ground zero for jargon and its fallout on sentences. In fact, the other day I was talking to a young farmer when I realized I couldn’t understand him at all. It wasn’t that he was mumbling. It wasn’t that he spoke a dialect different from my own. It was just his words–words full of sound and agribusiness lingo, signifying nothing. The young man was fond of utterances like the following:

“What the public doesn’t understand is that modern agricultural producers are utilizing the latest technologies and materials–we’re deploying the safest chemistries and best genetics to maximize revenue and increase productivity, just to feed the world.”

Young Farmer

Admittedly, I didn’t have the heart to tell the young farmer that what the public doesn’t understand are his verbs and nouns. And it’s only a matter of time before the last bastion of his understandable lingo, “to feed the world,” is transformed into some monstrosity like, “to replenish the planet’s gastric capacity.” The oddity is that when the young farmer talks of other topics, not related to agriculture, his sentences are both clear and intelligible, but the moment agriculture is broached in conversation, a switch flips and he speaks in riddles.

Of course, the government is partly to blame for this. For decades, the USDA has referred to farmers as “producers” or “operators.” I think the intention is to make farming seem more modern and business-like, to leave behind the pitchfork and overalls stereotype. So highfalutin farm words are, in a sense, an innocent way to puff out one’s chest, to say “I’m important.”

But concocted words like producer and operator do more harm than good. They only exacerbate the separation and increase the distance between non-farmers and farmers. A child will never comprehend an “animal unit” if it can’t comprehend a heifer or steer. 

And not all separation is so innocent. Words are purposefully manipulated to soften and hide meaning. Thus, killing becomes depopulate; slaughterhouse becomes processing plant; pesticides become chemistries. My favorite metamorphosis is the transformation of the word lagoon from a waterbody in a tropical paradise to a manure pond at the end of a loafing shed. 

To be fair, alternative agriculture is not without offenses. Words and phrases like biodynamic, regenerative, and beyond sustainable are now bandied about with such frequency and carelessness that one never knows exactly what they mean. I am often left wondering if these words are merely hip, feel-good marketing terms. Often they’re used vaguely and all-inclusively, for anything from moon crystals to cover crops–just more words meaning everything and thus meaning nothing.

Farm talk didn’t used to be this way. Listen to any old-timer talk about farming and you’ll immediately notice a difference. You’ll notice farmers are farmers, not producers. You’ll hear nothing of “animal units” but plenty about cows, or more specifically the twenty brood cows grazing the back pasture. You’ll hear idioms that are both illustrative and clear, like “meaner than a Jersey bull” or “madder than a wet hen.” And forget feeding the world—you’ll hear about the struggle to feed the family when the boll weevil came through in 1949.  And you’ll not only hear the words, but you’ll see images and know meaning. That is how to talk farming. 

But back to the point of this post: if you’re talking about flying triangles (that look remarkably similar to Imperial Star Destroyers), you should call them UFOs, not UAPs. 

UFO, not UAP

34 thoughts on “How to Talk UFOs and Farming

    1. Just put “beyond sustainable” into youtube and you’ll have gurus galore who can tell you, but I haven’t the slightest clue. Really, anything that is beyond sustainable is by definition “unsustainable.”

    1. Definitely. I think the mental separation reflects a physical separation, as well. Food comes from a grocery store or drive through window instead of the farmer, so nobody realizes how hard the work is.

  1. That type of jargon makes me cringe I almost feel myself foaming at the mouth when someone says they are going to “reach out” to some department on my behalf — as if they’re crossing oceans rather than pressing a button on their computer or phone. But my most recent favorite bit of gibberish is “bio-break.” As in, “We’ll take a fifteen minute bio-break and then re-start the meeting.” I really, REALLY wanted to say, “You mean I can go take a sh—?” which is a phrase I’ve never in my life used.

    Here’s an idea: Let’s all try to use the perfectly good words and phrases everyone already understands instead of trying to make things seem better or fancier or, I don’t know, cleaner than they are. A cow is a cow. A bathroom break is a bathroom break.

    Sorry. I went on a bit of a rant there. But honestly!

    1. Hear, hear, I completely agree. The first time I heard someone say bio break I had the same reaction. Just let me take a break–what I do with my time is my own business.

  2. It reminds me of my days in corporate life at Pfizer. We got so accustomed to slogging through jargon that it it felt normal, just another language. Have you heard of buzzword bingo, where you listen for key words and win the game if you hear the right combination for your card?

  3. The term “personal branding” sets my teeth on edge. At the encouragement of a supervisor a couple of years ago, I attended “tier 1” of a leadership course run by our county government’s HR department. Some of it was valuable, but the course concluded with the topic of “personal branding”, which I took to be corporate lingo for selling your soul. Emergency services is a jargon labyrinth in its own right, but I took solace in that at least I don’t get harassed by our training department about how to promote my personal brand or maximizing my productivity in diverse teams.

    1. Hubby got a bright yellow t-shirt from his corporate job, from the caring souls in HR, along with all employees—it says with a big smiley face “Are You OK?” That’s double-speak for—“We pretend to care.”

      1. I hate the term “human resources.” I mean, just think about what that means. Could we please just go back to calling it the personnel department.

      2. Agreed. But, in a global resource-based economy we might soon be relieved for such a label, since it might mean we mere humans get more respect than the non-human resources. Wishful thinking?

    2. Between emergency services and military, you’ve certainly heard your fair share of jargon. I saw a news story a few days ago where the military had sent some “aerial assets” to assist India in looking for submarine. Why can’t we just say airplane or drone or whatever. I too hate the whole personal branding thing and everyone saying you have to have a platform and be an influencer nowadays to do anything.

    1. Maybe we should start a farming illuminati group. I will start working on a secret handshake for if and when people ever shake hands again.

  4. I hate jargon. When I was writing environmental impact statements, we could never say that animals might be killed by the project. They would be “lost.” Even though we knew exactly where they were–under the pavement and trucked-in fill.

    1. We have environmental and engineering outfits who use our old aerial photos for environmental impact statement stuff. I’ve never had to write one, but from what I can tell, them seem like another exercise in the government’s plot for paperwork to take over the world.

      1. They kept me employed for a good number of years, and I would like to think that they’ve kept some bad designs from going forward. But you’re right, they’re massive. Definite toe-breaking material if you drop one.

    1. We used to have over 200 hundred grade A dairies in our county. Now we’re down to two dairies left. Just can’t compete with the mega dairies.

  5. I fell down the Google rabbit hole one day while researching the difference between self-sufficient, self-sustainable, and self-reliant. It was a very deep hole. More than jargon, I just cringe when I hear “business-speak.” So, let’s run that up the flag pole and see if we can leverage some low-hanging fruit. Sigh. Somebody dispatch me now.

    1. “It was a very deep hole,” lol. Yes, agreed, we need to start a petition to stricken “leverage” and “win-win” from the English language.

    1. Ah, yes, I reread orwell’s essay on jargon last year. It always provides some inspiration when the jargon and acronymns at the ag office just get too overwhelming 😉

  6. While [Unidentified Aerial Phenomena] is indeed a clunky jargon phrase, I suspect that its users are not merely wallowing in obfuscation. The old [Unidentified Flying Objects] does tend to be overinterpreted as conceding that some other planet’s analog of NASA has probably sent a space probe to Earth. (We just don’t know which planet.) The new phrase suggests that the observer may well have seen a happening (not a persistent object) that is somewhat like a rainbow or a sun dog, but much more unusual. Is that more plausible suggestion worth the clunkiness? Nah.

    1. Hmm, good point, I do see what you mean. Maybe to avoid clunkiness and be inclusive of both objects and phenomena we could just say “Weird Sky Sighting.”

  7. I call Knobby and raise you a Lizard Man. The kid who described it the critter said it was hairy all over. Describing something as “hairy” then calling it a lizard man, is, of course, is a testament to the South Carolina educational system. I once saw not one, but three UFOs. They stopped traffic for all the people watching them. They were three glowing reddish\white balls. It looked like something atmospheric in nature to me, but a lot of people swore they were space ships. I figure Knobby flew one and the Lizard man flew the other. Who flew spaceship #3 is anyone’s guess. Another good article, sir.

    1. So my mom’s family is from Cheraw, and I remember visiting when I was little and once my grandma got me and my cousins all worked up with a story about lizard man. It’s funny you say that about being hairy because the way I remember picturing him in my head was half lizard/half kangaroo with long vicious fangs and red eyes. Even now, when I think about lizard man, I get that picture in my head. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a UFO and hopefully I never will cause I’d probably have a heart attack before the aliens could abduct me. When it comes to paranormal beings, aliens are the ones I want to avoid the most.

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