Jargon is the special language of each profession, sport or hobby. We can all spout words when talking about our current passion that make another person frown and say, “Huh?”
When I was a 9-1-1 dispatcher years ago, I learned a completely new language that revolved around numbers. But even that wasn’t necessarily translatable by other law enforcement agencies. For example, in our community the code “211” meant there are no wants or warrants on an individual or license plate. We once received a call from a California agency, wondering how a small town in Montana could have so many armed robberies. Their code “211” meant robbery in progress.
Jargon is sometimes merely doublespeak, and it is also often responsible for wordy, heavy-handed sentences. When it comes from government or business, we call it “bureaucratese.” It’s almost as if the writer has deliberately ignored every opportunity for clear, concise writing.
Here’s an example: “The necessity for individuals to become separate entities in their own right may impel children to engage in open rebelliousness again parental authority or against sibling influence, with resultant confusion of those being rebelled against.”
Rewrite: “Children’s natural desire to become themselves may make them rebel against bewildered parents or siblings.”
Ah, now I get it!
Jargon can turn into buzzwords that everybody adopts until they become cliches. These are terms that have spread beyond their original field, and people outside the occupation often use the words imprecisely or pretentiously, for example: downsize, cutting edge, holistic, benchmarking, paradigm, synergy, tipping point, off-shoring, next generation. Here's an amusing article about new terms being introduced in marketing.
When we are writing our first drafts, we may find ourselves resorting to jargon if we feel we want to sound more important or knowledgeable, especially when we are unsure of the subject or when our thoughts are tangled. But, on the rewrite, make sure to eliminate jargon and strive for clarity.
Cut all those extraneous words.
A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.