Corporate English- London Underground

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Because it breaks down with such regularity, London Underground has equipped its staff with a number of excuses. Recently I was on a train that stopped short of its destination and we were told that 'because of the late running of this train, it will now terminate here'. While I can see that, from a timetable perspective, a late train might be blocking things, from a passenger's perspective, it is doubly infuriating to have to wait for a train and then be told that you can't get to your destination. Transport in London is of such a low standard that it really does have to be experienced to be believed. However, yesterday, they told me that the train I was on would have to wait a few minutes because there was a delay behind us. Despite trying, I could not work out any sense behind this explanation.

The tube also has standard phrases when lines are closed for works, which are somtimes called 'planned engineering works'. This reason makes sense as some will be emergency works and unplanned. However, they also tell us that lines are closed due to 'necessary engineering works'. This excuse is pitiful. I suppose it's meant to reassure us, but what other kind of engineering works do they carry out? Does London Underground carry out unnecessary engineering work? This sloppy, dreadful use of langauge, which is standardised and has, presumably, gone through a committee for approval drives me up the wall. As they kick us out of the station for the lottery of the buses in London, do they really think we'll feel happier knowing that the engineering works aren't a whim? London Underground got together and formulated this crass phrase to make its passengers, or customers, understand. Hasn't it occurred to them that their feeble excuses make people even angrier?

They are also strange phrases, like the instruction to ensure that we take all personal belongings with us'. I can't help wondering what the word' personal' is adding to the sentence.

They also use phrases that aren't very easy to understand for foreigners, despite the huge numbers of tourists in London, as well as the residents who speak other languages. There are signs in some stations saying 'Do not alight here', which many think is a 'No Smoking' sign. 'Mind the Gap' has acquired a notoriety as a classic example of language that would perplex many foreign speakers. They almost never provide translations and there is virtually no evidence that they have taken the large numbere of their passengers into account who are not native speakers.

Categories: General


I remember London's Underground, when the doors would close on a swathe of my hair, or the worst, when it just stopped in the middle of a tunnel for ages, and not only was there no explanation, but no one talked! At least you get some kind of communication. Montreal's Metro system is always full of surprises, and there's a standard attempt at explanation, whatever the surprise is : blackouts, halts for ages, evacuations, the explanation never varies: "ATTENTION TOUS LES VOYAGEURS!" ATTENTION ALL PASSENGERS...! In all the years I've lived here, we strain our ears, ask each other, "What did he say?", not one single person has ever heard the rest. I think this is a "planned, calculated mumble".
All Metro drivers have to pass a "delayed, muffled mumble" test so as not to fling TOUS LES VOYAGEURS into a state of unnecessary panic:-)


I work in an enormous institution with the thousands of employees having various mother tongues. All also speak French with equal proficiency, and many speak perfect English also. Daily communiques are sent out on our computers. I am amazed. This is a sophisticated cosmopolitan city, where getting a degree in translation is a bit "de trop"....or so it would seem! I am revising my opinion, however, knowing that the top, best grade translators in the country have been hired by the institution to translate from French to English, memos that could on any day, inform us of emergencies, or disasters (planned or not).
There might well be a bit of side-line money to picked up........I may contact them, except they don't want anyone to.

The translation shall speak for itself:
"In order to permit repairs, it will be necessary to have an electrical shut-down of the line #118 by Hydro-Quebec. The electrical shut-down will be done on Saturday...... Please, take note that other electrical shut-downs are planned. We will let you know the dates and the times of the repairs. We apologize for the inconvenients this may cause."

I am, of course fascinated and happy that it is line #118. That's always been my favourite line. (???)
It's quite catchy :
"No more zings on line #118!
Carry on, carry on heating my plate,
Juicing my printer, making me late!
Carry on, zap-zing, 118,
Until, until, oh sad day of fate.....
Carry on, carry on, One one eight!!"

Going back to the London Underground, there might be some logic to what is told you. (Or "perceived" logic, according to their lights).
"Necessary engineering works", for example. If this is a sudden, unplanned (sorry!) thing, it might be because someone has decided to end it all by leaping onto the Northern Line, and, of course we don't really know how long it's going to take to clear the rails. Or it could be intrepid seagulls or pigeons (???) gumming up the works.
If it's not a sudden thing, there is a peculiar phenomenon whereby the Underground crews probably think that the addition of an extra word (with 4 syllables, too!) will impress people no end. Three long words! And, oh, we can rely on those boys, they're not waiting till the whole system falls apart, they're doing a bit of preparatory maintenance.
"Engineering works" looks a bit bare. The starkness could prompt questions. Bureaucrats get ill when questioned.

Then there's the "take your personal things with you." Here are some suggestions: 1) They think people will lose their heads, panic and leave their wallets on the seat or forget their umbrellas.
2) They want to give the impression that just because the lights are all out, don't worry, mate, we can see if you've nicked that lady's handbag.
3) Only take things you know are yours. You wouldn't want to take that suspicious bag with you.

When the train "terminated" because it was running late, it was because of the poor train driver. He was dead exhausted, and was going to miss his supper, and his favourite telly programme as well. So of course you lot had to get off:-))

Here, it's stark, and very easy. No explanations.
"FERME!" or the very easy, oh how simple : "CONSTRUCTION".

I accept planned engineering works as unplanned would be responses to emergencies, but the logical conclusion of necessary englineering works is that they have gangs going around digging up lines for no reason. Is 'King's Cross station is closed because of engineering works' that bare?


"King's Cross station is closed because of engineering works " is not at all bare.
It sounds all right to me...if you see a bit of activity, scaffolding, men in overalls, that sort of thing:-)

I am a Chinese. It's a hard work for me to read all the comments. But I like this BBS. I hope I can make friends and improve my English from posting something here.

try to help me for replying email regarding official work

Try this Blog it highlights frustrations relating to London Underground in and Irreverent but humourous ways. No one escapes. Management staff and passengers are all pilloried for different reasons

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