Using Technical Jargon

"Any sufficiently popular and complex hobby, game or sport will quickly develop its own cant, a mode of discourse that by its nature includes insiders and excludes others. Baseball terms have, over decades of media coverage, become so familiar that terms like strikeout and spitball have entered the English language more generally.—Stephen Chrisomalis, Linguistic Disquisitions

Almost every profession and hobby has its own language, an argot specific to the people involved in it. Geologists speak of strata, faults and inclusions; graphic artists talk about trapping, seps and matchprints—even we E2 citizens have our own useful terms like noder, GTKY and homenode. Jargon serves a very necessary place in life—it allows people of similar interests or occupations to communicate effectively.

Well-conceived jargon can compress a great deal of information into a small number of words. For example, when a police officer says "10-38," a trained dispatcher knows that this is a request for backup, but that the officer is not in big trouble—not bad for two little numbers!

Jargon is useful for its precision. Back in my chemistry-nerd days, "MeOH" (pronounced em-ee-oh-aitch) meant '100% methyl alcohol' and "EtOH" meant '100% ethyl alcohol.' The likelihood of a reasonably attentive student mixing the two up was failingly small.

Jargon can also be a lot of fun—much of it has a certain elegance of appropriateness. The fact that I can use cool terms like focal length and aperture correctly isn't likely to make me a better photographer, but it is great to feel like one of the gang when people are talking about taking pictures.

Jargon is not all good, though—oh no, far from it! Jargon may be used to pretentious, exclusive ends—sadly, it frequently is. A lot of jargon-users, whether they are professionals or hobbyists, use these words to keep other people at bay, hoping to create the impression (true or false) of being the keeper of a vast wealth of knowledge. This sort of silly pretension creates a very bad impression for those not steeped in the particular lingo.

Jargon may be used to prevent outsiders from following a conversation. Medieval trade guilds had cants—specific words and phrases that kept the uninitiated from understanding what was being discussed. Likewise, the shadowy underworld of illegal and proscribed behaviour (drug smuggling, organized crime and confidence games are just three examples) has its own slang, with many dialects. These secret languages are, of course, designed to cover up illegal or immoral activities and keep authorities guessing. When ordinary folks who do not happen to belong to Medieval trade guilds or underworld cartels do this it is usually to keep other people in the dark (or asking)—and it is exceptionally irritating.

A Service Provider's Perspective

"Did you ever have a club, and make up secret code-words that all the members had to learn? That is largely what medical terminology is, a secret code."—David Ledesma, teacher

There are several benefits to the (limited) use of technical jargon between service providers and clients. For one thing, demonstrating a knowledge of the jargon may help to build client confidence. Clients often have a strong need to have faith in the people providing their services and an easy familiarity with the language of the trade may be perceived as displaying competence and professionalism.

It is important for clients to be able to communicate effectively with the service provider, and a quick lesson in the terminology may make their requests more speedy and precise. The client thus educated also feels "in on it," so to speak, as an active participant in the service that is being provided, rather than a passive bystander. This further develops rapport and confidence between service provider and client.

I love medical and anatomical terminology. To me it seems so elegant and beautiful (mostly, anyway). When I went to massage school, we were required to learn hundreds of names for muscles, bones, anatomical systems and more, not to mention the massage technique terminology. To avoid alienating clients, or making them think I was being pretentious, I mostly used common names for everything at first. That changed quickly, as I spoke to clients and learned that using some of the lingo was fine, (even preferred) by many of them.

Define your terms casually, never in a condescending or pedantic manner. I will often say something like "There is a group of muscles called the rotator cuff across the shoulderblade," point them out and explain their function. The client then feels comfortable to ask questions. After this, you can incorporate these terms into conversation with the client, as long as you don't ever use them in place of actual expertise!

None of this is outrageously difficult in actual practice. Whether you are repairing a car, providing computer advice or caring for their health most clients appreciate being treated like intelligent adults (there are always exceptions, of course)—as long as you are not pedantic and make sure to define your terms, they will be likely to enjoy being in on the "secret code."

Much of this article was taken from years of my own experience and countless conversations with other service providers, additional material from:
Homer, Joel, "Jargon; How to Talk to Anyone About Anything" (Times Books, New York, 1979).
Chrisomalis, Stephen, "Linguistic Disquisitions" at the Phrontistery:

Jar"gon (?), n. [F. jargon, OF. also gargon, perh. akin to E. garrulous, or gargle.]

Confused, unintelligible language; gibberish; hence, an artificial idiom or dialect; cant language; slang.

"A barbarous jargon." Macaulay. "All jargon of the schools." Prior.

The jargon which serves the traffickers. Johnson.

<-- an idiom with frequent use of informal technical terms, as acronyms, used by specialists -->


© Webster 1913.

Jar"gon (?), v. i. [imp. & p. p. Jargon (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Jargoning.]

To utter jargon; to emit confused or unintelligible sounds; to talk unintelligibly, or in a harsh and noisy manner.

The noisy jay, Jargoning like a foreigner at his food. Longfellow.


© Webster 1913.

Jar"gon, n. [E.jargon, It. jiargone; perh. fr. Pers. zargn gold-colored, fr. zar gold. Cf. Zircon.] Min.

A variety of zircon. See Zircon.


© Webster 1913.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.