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The process of dictionarisation in English for Police Purposes: Dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias as entry points in the specialised language and communities of policing and law enforcement

Le processus de dictionnarisation et l’anglais de la police : les dictionnaires, glossaires et encyclopédies comme voies d’accès à la langue et aux communautés spécialisées du domaine de la police
Audrey Cartron
p. 79-95


Cet article explore une variété spécialisée de l’anglais jusqu’alors peu étudiée : l’anglais de la police. La publication en anglais de dictionnaires, glossaires et encyclopédies de la police apporte un éclairage précieux sur l’existence de cette langue de spécialité, mais souligne également la nécessité de rendre les termes et concepts spécialisés accessibles aux non-spécialistes. La dictionnarisation n’est pas le seul critère attestant une spécialisation ; cependant, ces ouvrages offrent d’intéressantes voies d’accès à la langue et à la communauté spécialisées. Cette étude vise à décrire le contenu d’une sélection de cinq dictionnaires, glossaires et encyclopédies spécialisés. Elle propose également d’analyser le rôle joué par les auteurs ayant contribué à la compilation de ces publications ainsi que leurs motivations, souvent explicitées dans les sections introductives. De nombreux éléments pris en compte lors de la compilation, comme le profil du lectorat ciblé ou la nécessité de refléter les évolutions institutionnelles, sont également analysés.

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1. Introduction

1Before the 1970s, British researchers – such as Charles Reith (1956), Michael Banton (1964), or Thomas Critchley (1967) – published major pioneering studies focusing on policing in England, Wales and Scotland. In the 1970s, “federal research investments and a growing acceptance of police and criminal justice studies at major universities” (Greene 2007: xxv) favoured the development of research on policing and law enforcement both in the UK and the USA. Numerous studies have been published since the 1970s, dealing with the institutional, cultural, social or historical dimensions of the police in the United Kingdom (Brown & Howes 1975; Shpayer-Makov 1990; Young 1991; Cowley 2011) and in the United States (Walker 1977; Bechtel 1995; Reppetto 2010 & 2012; Barrie & Broomhall 2012). Although interest for police studies has widened – comparative and international studies have also been published (Newburn 2003, 2004) – authors have rarely addressed the linguistic aspect of police work and communities. Indeed, only a few authors have focused on language specialisation in relation to policing. These authors have analysed police discourse within the specific professional contexts of police interviews and interrogations (Watson 1983; Jönsson & Linell 1991; Edwards 2006; Haworth 2006; Benneworth 2009; Haworth 2009; Holt & Johnson 2010; MacLeod 2010; Gaines 2011), written police reports (Jönsson & Linell 1991) and police calls (Tracy & Anderson 1999).

2This paper draws on our current Ph.D. research work, which intends to show that English for Police Purposes may be approached as a specialised variety of English (SVE), with linguistic, disciplinary and cultural specificities which deserve to be investigated and characterised. Dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias are interesting entry points in the process of characterising this specialised language, since they provide access to its lexical specificities. These publications shed light on the necessity to make specialised terms and concepts accessible to non-specialists, revealing the underlying need to bridge the gap between specialised and general languages (Charpy 2011: 26; Van der Yeught 2012: 17). They popularise specialised lexis and concepts, suggesting that English for Police Purposes is indeed a specialised variety of English, but they also open a window into the specialised nature of the law enforcement community.

3In order to investigate English for Police Purposes, I have chosen to focus on a corpus composed of five main publications: The Oxford Dictionary of Law Enforcement (Gooch & Williams 2007), the Dictionary of Policing (Newburn & Neyroud 2008), The SAGE Dictionary of Policing (Wakefield & Fleming 2009), the “Online Glossary of Police Terms: A Guide to Commonly Used Police Terms and Their Definitions” (Strategic Services Bureau of the Metropolitan Police Washington D.C. 2013) and The Encyclopedia of Police Science (Greene 2007). These major publications were selected because it was expected that they would allow us to compare easily accessible paper and online works published around the same time period and dealing with police forces in both the UK and the US. Moreover, another selection criterion was the general scope of study adopted by these publications, compared to related but more specific specialised dictionaries such as Lambert’s dictionary of fingerprinting (1991), Mathias’s glossary of terms connected with criminal law and procedure (2006), Bell’s Dictionary of Forensic Science (2012), or Peak’s Encyclopaedia of Community Policing and Problem Solving (2013).

4After defining the concepts of specialised dictionary, glossary and encyclopaedia, I propose to outline the characteristics of these five selected publications on policing and law enforcement. The paper presents a comparative overview of their main features, including the content, structure and approach chosen by the authors. It then describes the contributors and their motivations, often expressed in introductory parts and on back covers, as well as the targeted readerships. Finally, it shows that specialised dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias reflect current policing and social practices and that they constantly need to adapt to change.

2. Definitions

5This paper presents the findings of a study based on three different types of publications: specialised dictionaries, specialised glossaries and specialised encyclopaedias.

2.1. Specialised dictionaries and glossaries

6John Humbley defines specialised dictionaries as follows:

Specialised dictionaries are defined […] by the specialised nature of the subjects they treat, focusing on particular subject fields, professional practices or even leisure activities […] with the aim of helping the user to acquire specialised knowledge, read specialised texts or engage in specialised translation. (2017: 317)

7Dictionaries and glossaries are similar because they both provide a list of words, associated with their definitions, and arranged in alphabetical order. A glossary is usually shorter than a dictionary because it is often located at the end of a book or chapter and it only provides explanations for technical terms used in previous pages. Moreover, dictionaries can be considered to be expanded glossaries. Newburn and Neyroud’s Dictionary of Policing, for instance, is based on the glossary provided at the end of The Handbook of Policing which was published by Newburn in 2003.

8Bergenholtz and Tarp identify two different types of dictionaries – maximising and minimising dictionaries:

A maximising dictionary is intended to cover by far the greatest part of the vocabulary of the subject field under consideration. A minimising dictionary, on the other hand, is designed to cover only a limited part of this vocabulary, for instance the most frequently used LSP terms. (1995: 58-59)

9In that perspective, The Oxford Dictionary of Law Enforcement would be categorised as a maximising dictionary. It has more than 3,400 entries and aims to cover law enforcement in a very comprehensive fashion.

2.2. Differences between dictionaries and encyclopaedias

10An encyclopaedia is “a book or a set of books dealing with every branch of knowledge, or with one particular branch, usually in alphabetical order” (Murphy 2005: 452). Specialised encyclopaedias make linguistic and extra-linguistic content accessible and they are essential tools facilitating the interpretation of highly specialised statements. Some features differentiate dictionaries from encyclopaedias. Indeed, John Humbley underlines that “prototypically dictionaries aim at the language of specialised fields, whereas encyclopaedias focus on the extra-linguistic” (op. cit.: 317). One example of this encyclopaedic specificity is the entry “cynicism, police” in Greene’s Encyclopedia of Police Science (op. cit.: 370-373):

Police cynicism is a widely acknowledged, little quantified property of the police sub-culture. It is the belief that the world – or at least the criminal justice system – operates according to the rules that are opposite to its publicly articulated principles.

11The entry then goes on, offering subparts entitled “early research”, “consequences of cynicism”, “the sources of cynicism” and “additional research”. Such an entry can definitely be characterised as an analysis of a cultural aspect of the police and thus, as adopting an extra-linguistic perspective. Of note, this entry cannot be found in any of the three dictionaries under study.

  • 1 Our translation. Original text: “[…] La complémentarité des approches linguistique et encyclopédiqu (...)

12Nevertheless, the difference between a dictionary and an encyclopaedia is not always clear-cut: in the making of a specialised dictionary, “linguistic and encyclopaedic approaches are not mutually exclusive but on the contrary complement one another”1 (Dancette & Réthoré 1997: 230). The Oxford Dictionary of Law Enforcement adopts the format of an expanded glossary, offering a large number of entries (over 3,400 entries), short definitions and no examples. The SAGE Dictionary of Policing and the Dictionary of Policing seem to adopt a different approach. They include fewer entries and, far from containing a single definition, they also present a detailed and thorough overview of each concept. They also mention specific cases to provide examples and include several elements concerning the context, historical and geographical variations, or controversies. Hence, these two dictionaries provide access to encyclopaedic knowledge, blurring the line between dictionaries and encyclopaedias.

3. A comparative overview of a selection of police dictionaries, encyclopaedias and glossaries

3.1. Content and structure

13The number of contributors, entries and pages vary from one publication to another.

Table 1: Number of contributors, entries and pages in each publication

The Oxford Dictionary of Law Enforcement (Gooch & Williams, 2007)

The Encyclopedia of Police Science (Greene, 2007)

Dictionary of Policing (Newburn & Neyroud, 2008)

The SAGE Dictionary of Policing (Wakefield & Fleming, 2009)

Online Glossary of Police Terms (Strategic Services Bureau of the Metropolitan Police Washington D.C., 2013)

Number of contributors





N/A (not available)

Number of entries






Number of pages



(2 volumes)




14The Oxford Dictionary of Law Enforcement, compiled by Graham Gooch and Michael Williams, offers the largest number of entries (around 3,400 entries). Greene’s Encyclopedia of Police Science, on the other hand, provides fewer entries (354) but is composed of 1,534 pages divided into two volumes, which indicates that each entry is described at length, providing more details and contextual elements than the entries found in The Oxford Dictionary. Besides, the online glossary published by the Strategic Services Bureau of the Metropolitan Police Washington D.C. is composed of thirteen pages but includes almost as many entries as The SAGE Dictionary of Policing, highlighting the conciseness of the glossary, in contrast to the encyclopaedic dimension of The SAGE Dictionary of Policing.

15The microstructure of our corpus publications and the content of the different entries vary as well.

Table 2: Internal organisation of entries per publication

The Oxford Dictionary of Law Enforcement (Gooch & Williams, 2007)

The Encyclopedia of Police Science (Greene, 2007)

Dictionary of Policing (Newburn & Neyroud, 2008)

The SAGE Dictionary of Policing (Wakefield & Fleming, 2009

Online Glossary of Police Terms (Strategic Services Bureau of the Metropolitan Police Washington D.C., 2013)

Different sections within each entry


see also

general considerations

different subparts

see also

references and further readings

short definition

background elements

related entries

- key texts and sources


distinctive features


associated concepts

key readings

short definition

16One recurring aspect in most of these publications is the authors’ strong will to show the interconnections between the different notions. Numerous conceptual relations are underlined thanks to sections such as see also, related entries, associated concepts, guiding readers in their exploration of a specialised language, throughout a complex network of interrelated concepts. For instance, the entry “crime prevention” in The SAGE Dictionary of Policing lists six associated concepts, namely “community engagement”, “community policing”, “multi-agency policing”, “policing”, “problem-oriented policing”, and “situational crime prevention”, encouraging the reader to consult other related entries in the same dictionary.

3.2. Various scopes of study

17These five publications adopt various scopes of study. The SAGE Dictionary of Policing has an international dimension, gathering contributions by 110 scholars and practitioners from fourteen different countries, including the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, but also France, the Netherlands China, Brazil, and Finland for instance. This is also the case for Gooch and Williams’s Dictionary of Law Enforcement, which, according to the back cover, is “international in scope – including European law, international criminal law, and human rights law.” However, The Encyclopedia of Police Science, which is US-oriented, and the Dictionary of Policing (UK-oriented), promote a more nationally centred approach. Finally, the online glossary targets a local audience, as its introductory paragraph explicitly states that it is designed for “residents, businesses, and visitors to the District of Columbia” (op. cit.: 2).

18Dictionaries and encyclopaedias on law enforcement and policing which adopt an international approach certainly require complex compilation procedures resulting from the multiplicity of perspectives and specificities across the world. Moreover, interdisciplinarity is at the heart of this specialised community, which is another obstacle that the authors have to face. Jack Greene evokes:

[t]he intersection of law, the physical sciences (in the case of forensics), psychology, social psychology, sociology, public policy, history, economics, and evaluation methods and statistical analysis, as well as criminology and the administration of justice. (op. cit.: xx)

3.3. The process of dictionarisation

19Despite the fact that these publications adopt various scopes of study, they are based on one recurring process: the process of dictionarisation (Charpy op. cit.: 31, Van der Yeught 2012: 18). It is composed of three steps: (i) extracting lexical items (acronyms, single words, compounds or expressions); (ii) gathering and classifying them (using alphabetical order); (iii) explaining them, making them accessible.

20In the introductory description of their online glossary, the members of the Strategic Services Bureau of the Metropolitan Police Washington D.C. indicate:

This pocket guide is designed to help residents, businesses, and visitors to the District of Columbia to better understand the wide variety of acronyms and lingo commonly used by members of the Metropolitan Police Department. These terms are often included in police reports and other documentation. (op. cit.: 2)

21The steps of the dictionarisation process can easily be identified here: terms are extracted from specialised texts and discourse (“police reports and other documentation”), classified using alphabetical order and then explained using general language to “help [people] to better understand” these specialised concepts.

3.4. The question of objectivity/subjectivity

22As mentioned above, dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias are interesting tools in the process of characterising a specialised language, hence the question of the objectivity and/or subjectivity of the authors while compiling dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias is an interesting one to address. Newburn and Neyroud, for instance, make a strong claim for objectivity in the introduction of their Dictionary of Policing: “there is no editorial line adopted in this volume” (op. cit.: xvii).

23However, Wakefield and Fleming seem to adopt a more subjective approach. Indeed, each entry of The SAGE Dictionary of Policing includes a section entitled “Evaluation”, which presents a “critical and reflective appraisal of the concept under study”. Wakefield and Fleming also underline that: “the views and opinions expressed in the individual entries are […] those of the authors” (op. cit.: xix). Nevertheless, the content of these “Evaluation” sections is centred on the controversial aspects of each concept or on the difference between theory and practice, rather than on the subjective comments of the contributor. The “Evaluation” section of the “Search” entry provides a perfect example of an objective appraisal of the concept:

Searching after a specific crime has been committed occasions little controversy for the need to collect evidence and detect offenders is clear. Controversy tends to focus on the crime prevention purpose of searches conducted at lower levels of suspicion, most notably stop and search. […] Objections to stop and search often concern not the tactic itself, but the manner in which police officers conduct searches, for example, their willingness or otherwise to give a credible reason for the search. (ibid.: 283)

24This extract explains the controversies surrounding the notion of “search” and, to a certain extent, makes encyclopaedic knowledge accessible. Indeed, it allows the reader to contextualise this specialised notion and facilitates its interpretation (Van der Yeught 2016: 57).

25Finally, it can also be underlined that despite a strong will to remain objective, subjective choices about which entry or information should be included are, and need to be made. Greene, for instance, outlines the selection criteria that were explicitly set out to choose the entries of The Encyclopedia of Police Science. He declares: “we […] selected entries on their ability to inform readers about recent trends in policing, […] [and to establish] a connection in these trends to the underlying research on policing”, and also because they were representative of different units of analysis “from concerns for and with police officers, their subcultures, their organizations and institutions, and the web of interactions they have with the public and other institutional actors” (Greene op. cit.: xxv). Indeed, the content of dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias also depends on choices made by authors who are willing to attain specific aims.

4. The authors and their motivations

4.1. Collaborative work

26Specialised dictionaries and encyclopaedias are often – if not always – compiled by two types of contributors who closely cooperate: scholars and professionals who serve or have served as police personnel or who are connected with the service. Both are represented among the authors and/or contributors of almost all five corpus publications. The only exception is the glossary published on the website of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, by the Strategic Services Bureau, exclusively authored by police professionals. One perfect example of this cooperation between scholars and professionals is offered by the two editors of the Dictionary of Policing, Tim Newburn and Peter Neyroud. This dictionary results from the cooperation of Tim Newburn, a professor of criminology, Director of the Mannheim Centre and President of the British Criminology Society, with Peter Neyroud, former Chief Constable and Chief Executive of the National Policing Improvement Agency.

27The cooperation between scholars and professionals of the specialised domain is a cornerstone in the conception of specialised dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias. It underlines the authenticity of the content and it reinforces its credibility. This cooperation is very often highlighted on book covers and in introductory sections; it is a paratextual indication of a commercial strategy meant to attract the potential reader’s attention.

4.2. Making specialised content accessible

28The main objective of specialised dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias is to make specialised content accessible. This aim is clearly expressed by all the authors. Gooch and Williams explain in the preface of The Oxford Dictionary of Law Enforcement: “its aim is to provide a clear definition of each term” (our emphasis, op. cit.: v). The idea of clarity is also emphasised in the introduction of The Encyclopedia of Police Science: “There is no single method advocated here; just the consistent admonition to be clear and direct” (Greene op. cit.: xxvii) and by Newburn and Neyroud, who highlight “the clarity of the language used” (op. cit.: xvii). Similarly, Wakefield and Fleming present “a comprehensive, easy-to-use format” and the online glossary is designed to better understand acronyms and lingo (op. cit.: 2).

  • 2 Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, Ed McBain, or Ian Rankin, for example, are well-known authors of (...)

29These publications create a bridge between specialised and general languages: when a specialised language is no longer understandable by non-specialists, there comes the necessity to extract and gather the main terms/concepts in order to explain them (Van der Yeught 2012: 17). Nevertheless, a specialised dictionary is not necessarily a compilation of opaque words and formulations that a non-specialist has never heard of. As far as English for Police Purposes is concerned, and due to extremely popular police procedural works of fiction,2 everyone is familiar, nowadays, with words such as alibi, suspect, murder, motive or warrant. Indeed, these terms are constantly referred to and exemplified in specialised fictional narratives or FASP (fiction à substrat professionnel), a genre defined by Michel Petit (1999, 2004) and Shaeda Isani (2004, 2009, 2010a, 2010b), in which “the professional or specialised environment […] shapes plot, character and dénouement” (Isani 2009: 46).

30Dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias offer an interesting insight into specialised language, but they also provide entry points into the specialised communities themselves. Many features of the law enforcement community are mentioned and analysed, providing information on a wide range of topics such as professional procedures, technical objects, policing theories and strategies, or internal hierarchical organisation. For example, several entries of Newburn and Neyroud’s Dictionary of Policing provide knowledge on various aspects of the specialised community (see table 3).

Table 3: Examples of entries providing knowledge on various aspects of the law enforcement community

Categories of knowledge on the specialised community

Corresponding entries in the Dictionary of Policing

Related professions and institutional partners

coroner, FBI, Interpol

Crimes and offences

anti-social behavior, burglary, child abuse, cybercrimes, domestic violence, hate crime, identity theft, sexual offences/sexual violence

Entering the specialised community

recruitment, training (police)

Historical landmarks

Bichard Inquiry, Peel Sir Robert

Internal organisation and hierarchy

basic command units, chief constables, constables, rank structure

Legal texts

Crime and Disorder Act 1998, Police and Justice Act 2006

Police culture and ethics

black police associations, code of conduct, corruption (police), gender and policing, ethics in policing, police culture

Professional procedures

arrest, custody, investigative interview, patrol, stop and search

Scientific and technological tools

DNA profiling, fingerprints, forensic investigation, technology and policing

Technical objects

firearms (police use of), warrant

Theories and strategies

broken windows, community policing, crime prevention (social and institutional), problem-oriented policing,

31As a result, the specialised content made accessible through specialised dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias does not only concern language but also the specialised community as a whole. Clarity and accessibility are among the major preoccupations of the contributors compiling these publications, to best serve the interests of their targeted readerships.

4.3. The profile of intended users

32Specialised dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias aim to make specialised content accessible. But accessible to whom? This is another question that the authors of these publications need to address. Building upon Shaeda Isani’s typology of readership profiles based on the ability to access specialised texts (2009), we identified various categories of intended readers: (i) experts, since members of the specialised community are the foremost users of dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias; (ii) experts in related fields – in the judicial or penitential systems, for instance – with professional stakes in police work; (iii) teachers of police academies (who might be former professionals) and students (who are future experts); (iv) academic researchers investigating policing and law enforcement; (v) lay readers who may not be (either not at all or only partially) familiar with the specialised domain.

33The Oxford Dictionary of Law Enforcement, for instance, has been designed for experts and professionals in related fields. The target audience is described explicitly and at length in the preface. Gooch and Williams indicate that “the work is designed […] for all those involved with law enforcement and the criminal justice system” (op. cit.: vi). Then, the authors distinguish between five detailed categories of intended readers, followed by a list of the professions within each of these categories:

- All those involved in the prevention and investigation of crime, including civilian and military police officers and officers of the Serious and Organized Crime Agency, HM Revenue and Customs, HM Immigration Service, National Health Service Counter Fraud […] and the various local government Trading Standards and Environmental Health Agencies.
- All those who owe a duty to the court and whom the courts expect to have a basic knowledge of the law and legal procedure: crime scene examiners, forensic scientists […].
- Justices’ clerks and legal advisers.
- Probation officers, members of Youth Offender Teams, Drug Action Teams, and Community Safety Working Groups, and others involved with the pre-sentence process and the rehabilitation of offenders.
- Those agencies and individuals responsible for the protection of children and vulnerable persons. (ibid.: vi)

34The authors of this specialised dictionary are thus targeting a certain type of professionals. The reason for such a focus is the primary aim of the dictionary, which is to ensure an effective professional cooperation between interconnected organisations: “law enforcement is a multi-agency activity […], effective partnerships require participants to understand […] the particular language […] of the organizations with whom they interact” (ibid.: v). The Oxford Dictionary of Law Enforcement is designed for professionals of the law enforcement community or for experts in related specialised fields, which is the reason why legal terms are much more numerous – and the degree of explicitness is lower – than in the other two dictionaries under study. The Dictionary of Policing and The SAGE Dictionary of Policing, on the other hand, seem to be aimed at lay readers.

35The online glossary of the D.C. Metropolitan Police also targets a different type of audience, namely “residents, businesses, and visitors to the District of Columbia” (op. cit.: 2). This glossary is for the general public, but the audience is limited in terms of geography. On the contrary, The SAGE Dictionary of Policing, which is also designed for the general public, addresses a wider and more international audience, appealing to “readers around the world” according to its back cover.

36Finally, specialised dictionaries can sometimes aim at both experts and non-experts. The editors of the Dictionary of Policing indicate: “[t]his Dictionary has been compiled for those working within policing or who are involved in educational or training courses linked with policing” (Newburn & Neyroud op. cit.: xvii). This opening statement seems to indicate that the dictionary is expert-oriented, aiming at experts (“those working within policing”) and teachers and students (“those who are involved in educational or training courses linked with policing”). Nevertheless, the book’s cover seems to be calling for a broader audience, as it mentions “a single volume dictionary accessible to practitioner and member of public alike” (ibidem).

37Identifying the profile of the intended users allows dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias to be adapted to their target readership, but they also need to adapt to change.

5. A constant need to adapt to change

5.1. Adapting to change: a must in policing activities

38The police constitute a professional domain in perpetual evolution. Several major changes have occurred in the past forty years in US and UK police forces. For instance, the development of community policing, the internationalisation of policing issues, the development of scientific methods, technological changes, and shifts in the demographics of police personnel are changes that have impacted the whole profession. Wakefield and Fleming underline that policing is “a fast-changing field of practice” (op. cit.: xviii). Consequently, these changes exert a deep influence on the education and training of police officers. These evolutions have motivated the publication of Newburn and Neyroud’s dictionary:

Significant changes taking place in relation to the education and training of police officers in the UK, and it seemed to us that it was a propitious moment at which to launch a dictionary that would meet the needs of people on the new courses in criminal justice and police studies. (op. cit.: xvii-xviii)

39The police are an ever-changing institution and its specificities and evolution are subjects of investigation for numerous academic researchers.

5.2. The development of police studies

40Greene opens the introduction of his Encyclopedia of Police Science by underlining that “the study of police science has undergone considerable changes […] since the first edition” (op. cit.: xix), published in 1989. This development is an ongoing process, for Wakefield and Fleming advocate:

There are still themes to develop, theoretical and ideological perspectives to incorporate, and international dimensions to reflect. Between now and the publication of the second edition, we will be […] identifying new avenues of inquiry and updating existing contributions. (op. cit.: xx)

41Furthermore, police studies also benefit from the advancement of research in connected fields. Many of the corpus publications have benefited from the commercial success of sister publications dealing with criminal justice and criminology. The preface of The SAGE Dictionary of Policing indicates that “the origins of this book lie in the success of The SAGE Dictionary of Criminology […] edited by Eugene McLaughlin and John Muncie” (Wakefield & Fleming op. cit.: xv).

42Similarly, when compiling their Dictionary of Policing, Newburn and Neyroud were inspired by the Dictionary of Probation and Offender Management (Canton & Hancock 2007) and the Dictionary of Prisons and Punishment (Jewkes & Bennett 2008).

43Moreover, this continuity is also exemplified by the fact that many authors were building upon previous publications, updating them to introduce new items. Greene’s encyclopaedia is the third edition of the Encyclopedia of Police Science. Its introduction emphasises that “196 [entries] are new to this edition and an additional 127 entries have been updated from the previous edition.” (Green op. cit.: xxv). Newburn and Neyroud’s dictionary also results from the expansion of a previous book because the Dictionary of Policing is based on the glossary provided at the end of The Handbook of Policing, published by Newburn in 2003.

44The need to expand previous publications provides evidence that language is evolving as well, along with the social, institutional and academic nature of policing: “Policing in this modern era has changed its language, symbols, technology, and analytics.” (our emphasis, Greene op. cit.: xx) As a result, encyclopaedias, glossaries and dictionaries need to be constantly updated in order to mirror these institutional and academic changes.

5.3. Products of their times

45For Newburn and Neyroud, specialised dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias are, “like any other document on policing, product[s] of [their] times” (op. cit.: xxi). The downside is that they quickly run the risk of facing obsolescence. The upside, though, is that they provide interesting tools for diachronic studies. Comparing successive editions of the same volume or even different dictionaries over the years offers insights into the evolution, and even the emergence of a specialised language. Indeed, tracing back the origins of a specialised language is not an easy task, but the publication of the very first specialised dictionaries in a given domain can provide an interesting and useful lead to follow (Charpy 2011; Van der Yeught 2012, 2016).

  • 3 “The rogue fraternity have a language peculiarly their own […] so […] a Vocabulum or Rogue's Lexico (...)
  • 4 The Police and Prison Cyclopedia “was compiled by a man who delighted in collecting all manner of f (...)

46As far as the specialised language under study is concerned, pioneering studies such as George Matsell’s Vocabulum; Or, The Rogue’s Lexicon (1859)3 and George Hale’s Police and Prison Cyclopaedia (1892)4 can be quoted. However, the very first specialised dictionary appears to be a French dictionary for police purposes, published in Paris in 1788 and compiled by Nicolas-Toussaint Des Essarts. Characteristically, it was published in a period marked by far-reaching evolutions in the organisation of police forces and by the development of the police as we know it today.

47Finally, studying and comparing specialised dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias also provide insights into the evolution of the entire profession and institution, and, to a certain extent, the evolution of society. With the development of new technologies, new types of crime appear, making it necessary to add new entries, such as the entry “cybercriminality”, which is included in most of our corpus publications.


48Policing is at the crossroads between a specialised domain and the general public, due to the multiple interactions between police forces (specialists) and other members of society (non-specialists). Moreover, widespread public interest for specialised fictional narratives or FASP cannot be denied. Police FASP works may include novels (e.g. Ed McBain’s police procedurals or Michael Connelly’s crime and legal thrillers) and TV series (e.g. Bones, Chicago P.D., CSI, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, or NCIS). Specialised fiction allows non-specialists to become familiar with some aspects of the work of members of police forces and with the language they use every day in their professional lives (Petit 1999, 2004; Isani 2004, 2009, 2010a, 2010b). As a result, at first sight, English for Police Purposes might appear to have a lower degree of specialisation than scientific English for instance. Nevertheless, despite the fact that English for Police Purposes seems to be less opaque than English for Chemistry, the existence of specialised dictionaries, encyclopaedias and glossaries indicates that police language is an SVE since it has specialised enough out of plain English to justify the need to create a bridge between the two.

49Admittedly, specialised discourse and language cannot be reduced to the mere existence of specialised terms and thus, to specialised dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias for, as Michel Van der Yeught underlines: “specialised lexis is only a small part of SVEs.” (ibid.: 54) Nevertheless, these reference books offer an interesting insight into specialised content. They give access to specialised language and knowledge, presenting some of the lexical, cultural and institutional features of the specialised community. As a result, specialised dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias might provide promising tools for teachers of English for Police Purposes. These publications can prove useful in building pedagogical activities aimed at the discovery and acquisition of this specialised variety of English. Indeed, these resources can help identify and decode terms from specialised texts. They can also be used in vocabulary learning, conversation practice and translation activities. Besides, along with specialised dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias, teachers, students and researchers in the domain of English for Police Purposes can also investigate the lexical specificities of the SVE by using other entry points such as corpus analyses, the Internet or specialised fictional narratives.

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Corpus references

Gooch, Graham & Michael Williams. 2007. A Dictionary of Law Enforcement. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Greene, Jack R. 2007. The Encyclopedia of Police Science. New York: Routledge.

Newburn, Tim & Peter Neyroud. 2008. Dictionary of Policing. Cullompton, UK: Willan.

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1 Our translation. Original text: “[…] La complémentarité des approches linguistique et encyclopédique, qui ne sont pas mutuellement exclusives mais au contraire se renforcent l’une l’autre”.

2 Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, Ed McBain, or Ian Rankin, for example, are well-known authors of police procedural works of fiction.

3 “The rogue fraternity have a language peculiarly their own […] so […] a Vocabulum or Rogue's Lexicon, has become a necessity to the general reader, but more especially to those who read police intelligence”, explains Matsell in the preface (1859: iv).

4 The Police and Prison Cyclopedia “was compiled by a man who delighted in collecting all manner of facts about what we call today the criminal-justice system” (Bailey 1995: 348).

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Audrey Cartron, « The process of dictionarisation in English for Police Purposes: Dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias as entry points in the specialised language and communities of policing and law enforcement »ASp, 75 | 2019, 79-95.

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Audrey Cartron, « The process of dictionarisation in English for Police Purposes: Dictionaries, glossaries and encyclopaedias as entry points in the specialised language and communities of policing and law enforcement »ASp [En ligne], 75 | 2019, mis en ligne le 03 mars 2020, consulté le 24 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Audrey Cartron

Audrey Cartron (Aix Marseille Univ, LERMA, Aix-en-Provence, France), a graduate from École normale supérieure Paris-Saclay, is currently conducting Ph.D. research work on English for police purposes. She holds a Master’s degree in British civilisation, a Master’s degree in English for Specific Purposes and the agrégation in English studies. She teaches at Université de Nantes and is affiliated with the Laboratoire d’Études et de Recherche sur le Monde Anglophone (LERMA) at Aix Marseille University. Her research interests cover the characterisation of specialised languages, discourse and genre analysis, the transposition of academic knowledge into teachable knowledge, as well as specialised fiction.

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