LEARNING THE LINGO
One of the greatest obstacles on the national security beat is understanding the language representatives (and their staffers) use to talk about the issues — and then knowing how to translate it for a general audience.
Pentagon language is known for being difficult to decipher, but congressional language offers its own challenges. NPR’s Tom Bowman cited “authorization” vs. “appropriation” as an important distinction in congressional language. As he put it, authorization is “when your mother says you can go to the movies” while appropriation is “when your father gives you $10.”
For a handy glossary that defines these terms and more, check out:
- CQ Roll Call’s dictionary
- TheCapitol.Net Glossary, which uses the Congressional Deskbook as its source.
- The Senate’s glossary
National security reporters recommend a technique useful whether you’re learning Japanese or congressional speak: exposure. If you can’t attend hearings, stream them live on your computer. Go to conferences. Talk to experts. And if a source uses a term you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask what it means.