What’s the use of jargon?

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‘Avoid jargon,’ corporate writers are often told. My advice regarding jargon is a lot more specific than that…

Does jargon ever have a place in corporate communications? You might be surprised to hear me answer ‘yes.’ But let me quickly define exactly what I mean by jargon.

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

By this definition, then, none of the following phrases is jargon:

  • circle back
  • utilize
  • deep dive
  • viral
  • value-added
  • deliverable
  • take it to the next level
  • on your radar
  • living your dream
  • due diligence
  • 360-degree thinking
  • paradigm shift
  • bleeding edge
  • synergize
  • low-hanging fruit

I consider all of these terms obnoxious and cliched, but not jargon. To me, here’s some real jargon:

NPO: (doctor) meaning a patient shouldn’t take anything by mouth.

Code Eight: (police officer) meaning another police officer needs help immediately.

Azimuth checks: (military) meaning a procedure in land navigation when a soldier makes sure they haven’t wandered off course.

Kip: (engineer) meaning 1,000 pounds.

Running lights: (theatre crew) meaning hidden lamps providing backstage light so that actors and technical crews can see a little bit.

All of these terms are very specific and meaningful to people in these professions. If they are speaking with other people in the same profession, it makes sense to use them because it saves time and improves specificity.

If they want to communicate to others, however, they should be aware that they might sound exclusionary or unfeeling or stuck-up. Jargon is only useful inasmuch as it actually communicates.

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