In defence of jargon

I know, I know. Considering the numerous rants in the pages of MichCommunication it’s hard to image a post in favour of jargon. But in today’s increasingly global business world it does have its place. Read on, I might convince you.

First, some terminology. Jargon is those insider terms – industry or company specific words or phrases – that are often gobbledygook to anyone outside the inner circle. In no way am I supporting clichés or buzzwords; you will never convince me that “going forward” or “outside the box thinking” are in any way acceptable.

I love jargon in its place. That place is quite limited, but important nonetheless.

And now the disclaimer. Jargon is not always useful. In fact my partner, a long time communicator himself, describes it as a form of language elitism; a way of excluding people by using terminology that leaves them scratching their heads. As such it’s rarely a good idea in general communication towards a mixed audience. In fact, unless you are speaking to a group of experts or writing a whitepaper for like-minded tech geeks, it’s still a no-no in external comms.

But in some cases, in particular when dealing with an international audience, jargon can be the best choice.

Let me use my own experience to explain.

Regular readers will know I spent several years working in Sweden. For the last two years I was the only non-Swede in the comms department of a reasonably sized bank. I was hired for my English skills to support the international side of the business, but the majority of the bank used Swedish internally and externally.

It was my first experience in banking, and let’s just say my private assets have never required an understanding of hedging or derivatives trading. I was out of my depth. I was also challenged by the language barrier.

Even if my Swedish was brilliant (which it wasn’t) my ignorance of the field meant I had to learn everything from the ground up. In many cases I only ever heard the Swedish word for an idea of concept. And it was the word most used by the industry.

If a synonym was thrown into the mix I was lost. I knew one word, I knew what it meant, and that was the word I used. I could explain it in simple English, after all that was my job, and could always fall back on the exact English translation, but to this day the Swedish expression still comes to my mind faster than that in my native tongue.

Here is where my argument really kicks in. Communication only takes place when the audience understands. So if you are talking to non-native speakers who, like me, know just one word or expression, perhaps that’s the one you need to use. In my (reluctant) boat, the need for understanding has to outweigh any personal qualms about regurgitating corpratese, even if (cringe) it is facilitate or industrialise.

What do you think? Is there a case for jargon?

To claw back a bit of respect here are my most popular posts on buzzwords:
5 words to ban in 2012
10 buzzwords and why we hate them
5 words doomed to be big in 2012

Posted in Better content, Clear communication, Words and language, Workplace communication Tagged with: , ,

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