Unpacking Jargon

Jargon Definition

By Joleen David

The Google dictionary defines jargon as “special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.”

The Cambridge English dictionary defines it as “words and phrases used by particular groups of people, especially in their work, that are not generally understood.”

For a writer, “not generally understood” should be a nonstarter, even in the context of this relatively benign definition. But given the bandwidth to leverage a full stack of dictionaries and drill down, you will find even worse: “unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing”; “gibberish”; and the urbandictionary.com burn, “speech or writing having unusual or pretentious vocabulary, convoluted phrasing and vague meaning.” Ouch.

Clearly the key learning here is that using jargon is not cool. And yet even ninja wordsmiths often seem to succumb to the lure of corporatespeak and technobabble.

Even you. Even me.

Why? What makes these echoes of middle school cool kid slang so hard to resist? I believe the answer can be found smack in the middle of Maslow’s hierarchy: our need to belong.

Using buzzwords is our way of telling others (and ourselves) that we “get it.” We are insiders; we are relevant; we belong. We may even have been incentivized to “speak their language” when communicating to a particular profession or group, to demonstrate our understanding of their industry.

But that’s the trouble with jargon: It only speaks to the particular profession or group where it was coined. And it leaves everyone else chasing the meaning of meaningless words, instead of absorbing the message we are trying to convey.

Not cool.

And so, fellow communicators, I propose a pivot: In the interest of clear communication, let’s agree to drop the jargon in favor of the “short” and “old” words famously favored by Sir Winston Churchill.

I’ll drop mine if you’ll drop yours.

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