Jargon and how to avoid it

Jargon. It’s all around us. From the corporate world to the voluntary sector, it seems that nobody in authority is capable of saying what they mean any longer, instead couching their utterances in a meringue of meaningless buzzwords and quasi-technical gobbledygook.

Sadly, the media is also infested with this creeping canker. How many times have you read jargon-filled articles that leave scratching your head by the end, asking yourself ‘what the hell was all that about’?

It’s nothing short of an epidemic. Take a look through any ‘serious’ newspaper or magazine. Chances are it’s full of terms like ‘rationalisation’, ‘collateral damage’, ‘austerity’, ‘challenging trading conditions’…the list goes on.

It’s easy to understand why some business/political leaders use jargon. By definition, it’s a way of codifying language, obscuring it so that the true meaning of what you’re saying can be understood only by those in your own clique.

Hence the use of terms like ‘austerity measures’ rather than ‘cuts’, ‘collateral damage’ rather than ‘civilian casualties’, ‘friendly fire’ rather than ‘shot by their own side’. And we won’t even go into the linguistic diarrhea that is modern business jargon and which has introduced such terms as ‘buy in’, ‘going forward’, ‘low-hanging fruit’ or the execrable ‘core competencies’.

A good journalist will avoid jargon at all costs. If an interviewee uses it, ask him to clarify what he means. If he fails to do so, then do the job for him. It’s not your job to hide meaning behind obscure terms or to help him cover up what his corporation/department/organisation is really trying to do. It’s your job to let your audience know what’s going on – and to do so in the clearest possible terms.

People resort to jargon for two reasons: to deliberately obscure meaning or because they don’t really know what they’re talking about.

There’s no excuse for a journalist to fall into either of these two categories. If you’re unclear what a word or a term means, find out. If your interviewee is unwilling to use clear, unambiguous language, then it’s your job to explain to your readers what he’s talking about. He may be a mouthpiece for some organisation or other but you’re not. Don’t simply repeat what’s being said to you, explain it. Probe, don’t parrot. Clarify, don’t collaborate. Become a jargon-buster today and help make the world a better, clearer place!

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One thought on “Jargon and how to avoid it

  1. Thank you for the post. I am so sick of the clouded language of PR people and the journalists who let them get away with it. I used to know a deputy fire chief who never called a fire truck a fire truck. He called it an apparatus. I always called them fire trucks.

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