Just say “No” to jargon?

Just say “No” to jargon?

Are you drowning in jargon?

My son’s voicemail said: “Hi, Mom. I’m in Minnie, on my way to Indy. I passed my FO. Call me after 7 when I’ll be out of the box.”

Hello??? One short message, four examples of airline jargon. This message certainly was concise, but it wasn’t clear to me and therefore not complete. Bruce was treating me as part of his inner circle of pilots, dispatchers, and air traffic controllers. That’s the point of jargon (vocabulary of a specific trade, profession, or group): Jargon is “shorthand” for experts.

Three functions of jargon

Jargon can be figurative, creating a picture that is not literally true. For example, the “box” Bruce referred to is actually a flight simulator (which is shaped like a box, but the inside looks and moves exactly like the cockpit of a particular plane, such as a Boeing 737).

Jargon is often creative. Prosecutors speak efficiently but disparagingly of “perps lawyering up” (defendants obtaining counsel). One of my clients puts their medical device through many heating and vibration cycles, which they internally refer to as “shake and bake.” They shouldn’t use this jargon in an FDA document, however.

Jargon can abbreviate language. I recognized the word “Indy” because of the popular “Indy 500.” I had to translate the other concise forms into language that I could understand: “Minnie” is short for “Minneapolis,” and “FO” is an acronym for “First Officer” (the pilot who sits in the right seat). Funny—although I lived in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the time, I never had heard the word “Minnie” before to refer to that other Twin City.

Jargon’s dark side

Some suggest that jargon is a harmless effort to make language concise and useful within a certain community of practitioners. Recently, a customer service representative told me that he would “RMA my defective modem.” He may have thought he was saving time, but when he finally had to define RMA for me as “return merchandise authorization,” it was clear that spouting that acronym wasted time for both of us.

Sometimes, jargon is meant to disguise meaning to protect the message from being understood by outsiders. If that’s your purpose, I can’t help you. However, if you are actually intending to connect with your reader, then decode the jargon for them. This isn’t “dumbing down,” but rather, translating your special language for the outsider. After all, I am Bruce’s Mom and will always try to figure out what he’s trying to say to me. Will your reader be as motivated?

Start today to identify the slang or jargon you unconsciously use with your peers. Become conscious of when you speak or write slang or jargon to a wider audience and prepare and use translations or definitions of your terms so a general audience can understand your communication. In other words, always strive to make your writing complete, consistent, clear, concise, and correct.

Some great examples:


Jargon watch from Wired Magazine

Buzzword Bingo games that you can print out to take to meetings

Computer jargon explained

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